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Friday, June 19, 2009

Launching CSR Programs Internationally

Earlier this week I presented on a webinar organized by Truist - partner for the BT Americas’ employee charity match program. The event looked at international differences in corporate responsibility and particularly in employee giving programs.

I have blogged about TransAtlantic differences before in Legal Doesn’t Equal Sustainable and in this post on the contrasting approaches to climate change of the respective chambers of commerce in the UK and USA.

Another contrast, that I described on the webinar earlier today, is between the broad approach to the role of government in providing a social safety net in Europe compared with the less expansive approach in the USA. I believe that as a result, companies, employees and shareholders in the USA see the corporation as having a comparatively stronger role in philanthropy to supplement the role of government.

In contrast though, European companies have a more expansive view of their long term role as employers as part of their corporate responsibility than perhaps do their American counterparts. I recently saw this articulated in a paper The Responsibility Paradox: Multinational Firms and Global Corporate Social Responsibility(University of Michigan; Davis, Whitman and Zald April 2006).

“The United States remains unique today in the flexibility and fluidity of its labor markets. In most other industrialized countries, some combination of more powerful unions, stronger labor protection legislation, or more deeply embedded social mores have preserved stable employment relationships”.

On the webinar Mark Shamley (President, ACCP) provided some great illustrative examples from BD and from Starbucks, of the impact of cultural differences on running employee programs outside of the USA.

There is no one answer to launching corporate responsibility programs outside of the home country, but it pays to be responsive to cultural differences and to know your objective. If the intent of a CSR program is to generate employee goodwill it can be counter productive to export an American version of employee philanthropy. Better to tell the distant country the intention and let them design an appropriate program. However if the intention is to spread corporate culture such that employees in another country understand and share in the culture of the home country, where head office is based, then exporting a program ‘as is’ might be the right thing to do.

1 comment:

  1. The US/UK comparisons you made in your presentation were interesting. The political angle was a perspective that I hadn't considered previously but you have the added benefit of having experience on both sides of the Atlantic. I'd hate to think that the US callers now believe we in the UK spend all of our time in the pub racketeering however as a general point, and in a VERY generalised way, there is a greater pride in giving back in the US than in the UK. However in the interests of all parties being "equal" it may be better to draw some pros and cons from both sides of the support model. Perhaps you could throw in a few challenges to the US model - what happens when corporates reduce giving?

    I'd hate to think that great networks such as school governors, Scout masters, Brown Owls, members of charity boards, Samaritans volunteers etc etc have been ignored or dismissed. There are deep rooted examples of volunteering, social support and community engagement in the UK, but perhaps we are just a little bit more subtle and reserved in our approach in the UK.

    I can't recall now how deeply you touched on central Europe esp. Scandinavia? We experience the culture there of complete lack of interest because of the high level of taxes paying for "social care".

    I don't have the benefit of direct US experience however having now worked for a US company for 12 months I am becoming ever aware of their passion for "giving back" which can be a little nauseating at times, however well intentioned. It perhaps goes back to diversity - diversity of opinions and acceptance that there are different ways of doing things - neither right nor wrong, just different.