Social responsibility, for a company, means assuming the responsibility for the impact produced by its business activities on the environment, in a general sense.
A socially responsible company is a company which carries out a corporate strategy which takes into account the interests of its stakeholders, setting out its policies and its management practices, and which takes into account the economic, social and environmental impact of these activities.
The European Commission emphasises the way in which social responsibility is not an additional element to business main activities, but an essential element for the business management. In its Green Paper “Promoting a European Framework for Corporate Social Responsibility” (2001) the European Commission defined CSR as “a concept whereby companies integrate social and environmental concerns in their business operations and in their interaction with their stakeholders on a voluntary basis”.
The factors which have mostly helped to open the debate of Corporate Social Responsibility are:
- recent changes within social and economic systems;
- the influence of social and environmental criteria on consumption and investments decisions;
- the increasing information about business activities;
- the increasing attention to quality of life, health and safety of people;
- the increasing interest in the protection of natural environment.
European members have shown their interest for these topics, for the active role of consumers, the importance and the stability of financial markets, the internationalization level of companies, etcetera. In order to improve the different experiences carried out in the European members, in 1995 the CSR Europe network was born: it is a non profit organization made by companies and European organizations involved in CSR. The network is promoted and supported by the European Commission.
In this context Italy has taken a leading role: there is a large number of theoretic contributions, a great involvement of the academic world and various best practices cases among non profit organizations, private and public enterprises which are privatizing, cooperative movement. From the end of 70s Italian companies started to consider the development of their activities not only as an increase of profits but also as an answer to the needs of society.
Furthermore Italian institutions started to consider the CSR question during last years: in particular, the Welfare Ministry launched the “CSR – SC” campaign, which included: the formulation of a set of performance indicators, the creation of a Multistakeholder Forum and the opening of informative offices nearby Chambers of Commerce.
It is now possible to consider the elements which a social responsible management has to to adopt:
- Initiatives, behaviours
- Management systems.
The corporation’s choice must a be a strategic choice of medium time period which involves the gradual insertion of social and environmental principles in the decision making processes. This means:
- Definition of Mission, Vision and Values,
- Adoption of an Eco-efficiency approach,
- Participation in the Ethical Finance processes (both for investments and for borrowing),
- Community Marketing processes for the definition of initiatives.
Various instruments can also be adopted according to the company history, its context, peculiarity of the relationship with its different stakeholders, as:
- Internal Codes of Ethics and Codes of Conduct for suppliers,
- Accountability Instruments: Social Report, Environmental Report, Sustainability Report,
- Stakeholder engagement processes,
- Specific reporting instruments regarding topic and stakeholder category,
- CSR Manager training.
The social responsible behaviour has become a part and parcel of the managing system of the company, in particular to internal stakeholders:
- Assuring a correct diversity management (for gender, religion, disability and more over),
- Guaranteeing a permanent training policy,
- Promoting the community involvement (volunteering, donations,…).
The company can also act as a citizen of the community:
- Giving donations and sponsorship,
- Taking part in partnership processes (LA21, New Social Partnership, youthful entrepreneurial development, training,…).
Some management instruments specific for CSR have been realized, which can help the company to manage its processes in a transparent way and to maintain a continuous improvement:
- For the environmental factors: ISO 14000, EMAS
- For the social factors: SA8000, AA1000, Q-Res (Italian standard).