CSR Initiatives Growing in Asia
by Kimberley Mark, MBA ‘14 (5/24/13)
Jeremy Prepscius, Vice President of Asia-Pacific/Hong Kong at Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) talked to Johnson students about the evolution of CSR throughout Asia and how BSR is helping companies integrate CSR into company policy.
Jeremy Prepscius, Vice President of Asia-Pacific/Hong Kong at Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) and expert on corporate social responsibility (CSR) issues throughout Asia talked to Johnson students about the evolution of CSR throughout Asia and how BSR is helping companies integrate CSR into company policy.
Prepscius explained that businesses often view CSR not simply as a cost center but as a type of insurance policy. For example, when individuals purchase insurance they do not purchase more insurance than needed. Likewise, a company assesses how much risk it is willing to take and invests the appropriate amount on CSR activities. If risk is perceived to be low companies will not invest heavily in CSR initiatives. BSR is trying to change this by encouraging companies to calculate not only the costs and risks but also the benefits and opportunities of having a sustainability strategy.
Given Prepscius’ extensive experience in Asia and specifically China where he worked for Nike for 10 years, he was able to provide insight on advancements in sustainability in the region. One of the more positive developments has been the Chinese national government’s requirement for state-owned enterprises to report on sustainability efforts and to develop CSR strategies. Growth in sustainability and CSR reports in China may be seen as insignificant and viewed with skepticism in a one-party state laden with corruption. Nevertheless, this increased attention on CSR should be viewed positively. While CSR is an existential threat to some members in the party, the burgeoning interest in CSR reflects the state leadership’s desire to use sustainability and CSR reporting to drive exposure of corruption, pollution and social issues.
China still faces significant hurdles in enforcing CSR and sustainability policies. For instance, environmental agency employees are accountable at the local level to local politicians, and not the larger ministry. As a result, driving change through the ministry will be very difficult. Although slow, change is happening. When Prepscius first worked in China on labor issues 15-20 years ago he noted that migrant labor camps were a standard part of the social structure. Change occurred when a university student from Shanghai was mistaken as a migrant worker and beaten to death making international news headlines. Only then did groups start advocating for education rights for migrant worker children.
Nonetheless, there is still need for greater improvement on environmental and social issues. Asian companies are being pushed to integrate business and sustainability in innovative ways. Through its advisory services, BSR helps companies create sustainability strategies and Prepscius is leading that charge.
Founded in 1992, BSR is a not for profit business membership association that brings companies together to work on common corporate responsibility issues. BSR also serves as a research consultancy; the company describes itself as half-way between McKinsey and Greenpeace. As a consultancy, BSR works with some of the largest companies in the world to develop business models that support a more just and sustainable world. BSR focuses on project implementation for non-profits, government agencies or corporations, and tries to implement the ideas from the corporate boardroom to the field, farm and factory.