x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Businesses urged to help society

Companies operating in the UAE and the public sector to engage in "social responsibility" to serve the nation.

ABU DHABI // Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, urged companies operating in the UAE and the public sector to engage in "social responsibility" to serve the nation and ensure their success. Speaking on Tuesday to top government officials and representatives of companies including BP, Shell, Rolls-Royce and Total, Sheikh Mohammed said the public and private sectors should work together to reach a common understanding of the concept of corporate social responsibility.

The "benchmark for successful corporations goes beyond profits, employment and economic growth to playing pivotal roles in sustainable development and moral commitments, which leave tangible hallmarks on the service of local community and environmental issues", WAM, the government news agency, quoted Sheikh Mohammed as saying. Corporations are socially responsible when they take into account the impact of their activities on employees, consumers, suppliers and the environment. For years companies in many other countries have given back to communities, sponsoring art galleries, hospitals and schools. That influence has been spreading to the UAE. In April, the National Bank of Abu Dhabi, the nation's second-largest bank, pledged Dh25 million (US$6.8m) to scientific research. It was the first such donation in the country, representing about one per cent of the bank's Dh2.5 billion in profits last year.

The Crown Prince made his remarks before the inaugural meeting of the Board of Trustees of the Emirates Foundation, which was established in 2005 to promote social responsibility. It is funded by private companies and government entities. In his speech, Sheikh Mohammed praised the achievements of the foundation over the past three years. He called for a deepening of the concept of volunteering in society and called on young people to engage in productive activities that have moral and social benefits.

Businesses have increasingly bought into the idea of corporate social responsibility, although it has been questioned whether some companies do so out of altruism or to enhance their images in the quest for profit. Major universities have begun offering degrees in the field, with more than a thousand books published on the topic. Subhabatra Bobby Banerjee, who wrote the book Corporate Social Responsibility: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, argued that the concept rests on the "limits of corporate rationality". The author questioned the integrity of companies that issue "slick, glossy" reports promoting their corporate responsibility initiatives, only to announce major layoffs and reward their chief executives with major raises for cutting costs. Others, however, see no moral dilemmas when companies financially benefit from social responsibility initiatives. In 2001, Kofi Annan, then the secretary general of the UN, addressed the US Chamber of Commerce on the role of business in the fight against HIV/Aids: "You will make less tangible, but no less important, gains in assets such as reputation and customer loyalty." Another form of social responsibility can be seen in the fair trade movement, which seeks fair treatment in payment and social and environmental standards in developing countries producing such products as coffee, cocoa, sugar, tea, bananas and cotton. In Tuesday's meeting, the Emirates Foundation chief executive, Peter Cleaves, said it was responsible for more than 50 programmes in science, environment, education, social development and arts and culture. He said those programmes had resulted in 47 institutional grants in social areas, 45 individual awards in arts and culture, 86 research projects in science, information technology and social development, and 115 fellowships and scholarships. mhabboush@thenational.ae