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Social Responsibility

Published 13th February 2006 by Constructing Excellence

To succeed against the competition, the UK construction industry must deliver quality products and services at acceptable costs as a matter of course. But increasingly its stakeholders all those it does business with or who are affected by its operations expect more from the industry in terms of how it operates and its overall impact on society.

To help meet these expectations the construction industry needs to address issues of community and social responsibility to build trust in its clients, build and retain the best possible workforce and build business success overall.

What is community and social responsibility?

What a business produces, how it affects the environment, how it recruits, trains and develops its workforce, how it invests in the community and respects the rights of people are all factors that determine the overall impact of that business on society in general. Whether that impact is positive or negative reflects a companys culture of community and social responsibility.

The Business Impact Task Force concluded in its 2000 report that:

for business as well as social reasons all organisations should commit to carry out their business in a socially responsible way and uphold the following key principles:

  • to treat employees fairly and equitably
  • to operate ethically and with integrity
  • to respect basic human rights
  • to sustain the environment for future generations
  • to be a caring neighbour in the community”

Commitment to community and social responsibility is about delivering benefits to both business and society and working continually to improve the positive impact of business on society.

Why is community and social responsibility important for business?

The Business Impact Task Force noted that:

“…behaving in a socially responsible way is not only the right thing to do but makes good business sense, for both large and small businesses.”

Doing good is good for business and a culture of community and social responsibility can help businesses succeed in three ways.

Building the Business

In the UK there is a high correlation between companies being perceived by the public as socially and environmentally responsible and being viewed favourably overall. Consumers value responsible behaviour by companies and reward such behaviour with loyalty to its products and services.

For this reason, no company can afford to be found wanting in fulfilling its legal obligations to society on health and safety, the environment, human rights or race, gender or disability discrimination. The potential damage to a business, its reputation and its sales is great if its own practices, or those of its suppliers or subsidiary companies, are called into question.

Building the Workforce

To succeed, companies need to attract the best people to work for them. Respect for people, their diversity and their need to achieve a good worklife balance is an important aspect of socially responsible business practice. Firms that fail to improve their attitude and performance towards respecting people will fail to recruit and retain the best talent and business partners.

The construction industry has a generally poor record on employment issues and under-performs on diversity issues. Large sections of the population particularly women and ethnic minorities are under-represented. The industry needs to demonstrate that it values all their workforce, their health and safety, their working environment, training and personal development and diversity, and that it maintains an active commitment to an equal opportunities policy. For this reason, the industrys own Movement for Innovation recommended that firms of all kinds and sizes should commit to achieving the standard of Investors in People as the most effective and most systematic means of developing and demonstrating respect for people.

Furthermore, people want to work for socially responsible businesses that respect not only their own workforce but the wider society. Surveys consistently find that most people believe that a company that supports society and the community for example, by establishing links with local or national charities, schools or other local groups is a good company to work for.

Building Trust

Trust is important in influencing the way employees, clients and the wider community judge a company. A successful company needs to operate with honesty and openness to create trust in its relationships with all its stakeholders.

Although there is no legislative requirement to report on social responsibility, companies that do so tend to be better perceived by their stakeholders. Reporting and communicating their impact on society can help to demonstrate openness and transparency about their operations, a willingness to be accountable for their actions and their seriousness of intent with regard to community and social responsibility, thus developing confidence in their business.

Reporting is, however, not an end in itself. The public will see through cynical reporting and attempts to be politically correct for its own sake. Companies need to demonstrate their commitment is real and produces real results.

Getting started

The principles of community and social responsibility need to be embedded into the overall business conduct of a company and become part of its core values and objectives. A badly targeted approach will be ineffective and companies need to identify the actions that will have most impact for them, manage them in a professional way and communicate to their stakeholders what they are doing. Without effective communication, no-one will be aware of their work. Without awareness, there will be no benefits to business standing or reputation.

As for any other project, it is first vital to secure the commitment of senior management and the allocation of adequate resources for developing a community and social responsibility strategy. Then, by reviewing current policies and performance, you can identify the issues of most relevance to your company and develop an effective strategy and action plan. The process should be iterative, with review of progress leading to adjustment of the strategy and continued business improvement.

Resources

The Business Impact Task Force report Winning With Integrity provides practical advice to help organisations of all sizes gain the benefits of good citizenship and covers several relevant areas, including the workforce; the environment; the community; and human rights.

Business in the Community, a business-led organisation committed to developing business and community excellence, provides advice and support on related areas including racial equality, women in the workforce, and sustainable development.

Investors in People is the national standard and framework to help companies and organisations improve performance through developing their people. Introductory and detailed guides are available from Investors in People UK (, www.iipuk.co.uk).

Respect for People




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