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Wafa Tarnowska of DLA Piper is an expert on corporate social responsibility.
Wafa Tarnowska of DLA Piper is an expert on corporate social responsibility.

Do your duty is message to business in Emirates

Social responsibility is on the agenda at a summit in Dubai this week.

Professionals gathering at a summit in Dubai this week plan to push companies across the Emirates to create more socially responsible programmes.

During the economic downturn, many businesses in the region are believed to have cut projects that helped their own employees, residents of local communities or the environment.

"That's the first thing that went," says Wafa Tarnowska, the corporate social responsibility manager for the Middle East area of DLA Piper, a global law firm.

Ms Tarnowska is just one of a number of experts who are scheduled to speak at the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Summit, which starts tomorrow in Dubai.

She contends businesses often believe that implementing a project will require a large investment up front.

"That's why they're reluctant," she says. "They think they have to pay a lot."

More than 80 per cent of business leaders surveyed in the UAE expect organisations to preserve the environment, treat their employees fairly and show concern for customers.

Yet, more than 90 per cent have failed to adopt polices and practices focused on these kinds of CSR goals, in part, because they perceive there is a high cost associated with implementing projects, according to a study released last year by the Emirates Foundation and Dubai Chamber's Centre for Responsible Business.

But businesses can start small socially responsible programmes by focusing on their own employees, experts say.

At DLA Piper, for example, an internal fund has been established to help expatriate workers, including those from the Philippines and Pakistan whose families back home have been affected by natural disasters.

When it comes to helping the community at large, some businesses in the region have added new professional training programmes.

Last year, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer started a new internship scheme specifically for Emirati nationals at its law firm in Dubai. Law students are brought in to shadow senior lawyers in meetings, conduct research and draft different law agreements.

"It's a way of opening their mind to what an international law firm does, getting their interest sparked and hopefully getting them interested in working for us," says Pervez Akhtar, the head of corporate practice for the Middle East and North Africa at Freshfields.

Other businesses are open to hearing about future programmes they should launch.

PepsiCo, the snack and beverage conglomerate, is to host a forum today in Dubai to find out what kinds of social responsibility issues resonate most with students between the ages of 15 and 30.

Such initiatives are part of the company's corporate mission and belief that its financial success "must go hand-in-hand with our social and environmental responsibilities", said Huw Gilbert, the communications director for the Middle East, Asia and Africa regions of PepsiCo.

nparmar@thenational.ae

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