What is telecoms corporate social responsibility?

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a form of corporate self-regulation integrated into a business model. The term first came into common use in the late 1960s and early 1970s, after the term ‘stakeholder’ was formed by multinational corporations to define the impact an organisation’s activities can have an on a social environment. CSR can be considered part of a company’s mission and a guide to what it stands for and will uphold to its customers. Like many other market sectors, carriers have also been strongly adopting CSR as part of their business strategy.

So what practices define a CSR strategy?

There is no absolute consensus as to what defines CSR, with several regulatory bodies offering different interpretations.

The World Business Council for Sustainable Development defines CSR as the continuing commitment by business to behave ethically and to contribute to economic development, while improving the quality of life of their workforce and families, the local community and society at large. It is an attempt by organisations to take responsibility for the impact of their activities on customers, suppliers, employees, shareholders, communities, other stakeholders and the environment.

The European Commission used to define 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". It has now adopted a new simpler definition: "the responsibility of enterprises for their impact on society". Respect for applicable legislation and for collective agreements between social partners is a prerequisite for meeting that responsibility. For enterprises to fully meet their CSR they should have a process to integrate social, environmental and ethical policies, human rights and consumer concerns into their business operations and core strategy.

Why is CSR an important part of a business strategy?

The ISO has set the benchmark for social responsibility through its ISO 26000. This measures an organisation’s performance in relation to the society in which it operates and its impact on the environment, and it has become an important certification for companies to prove their ability to adhere to the principles of CSR.

CSR is also considered highly important by the European Commission, which believes the engagement of internal and external stakeholders helps to enable enterprises to better anticipate and take advantage of fast changing expectations in society and operating conditions. This can lead to the development of new markets and create growth opportunities. The Commission argues that by addressing social responsibility, enterprises can build long-term trust with employees, consumers and citizens as a basis for sustainable business models.

But not everyone believes that CSR is entirely positive. In his paper, ‘The case against corporate social responsibility’, economist David Henderson argues that the adoption of CSR carries with it a high probability of cost increases and impaired performance due to managers having to take into account a wider range of goals and concerns, and involving themselves in new and time consuming processes.

How are carriers adopting CSR?

Many major carriers have extensive CSR strategies in place. Canadian carrier Telus has been recognised globally for its commitments to CSR. It publishes an annual CSR report and adheres to the highest standards of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI). Telus’s CSR programme includes strategic partnerships, philanthropy, volunteering and the establishment of a number of community boards. It also has several environmental initiatives in which it assesses the impact of its operations, energy and waste management and helps its customers minimise their impacts.

One such initiative was the removal of two obsolete copper cables in Burrad Inlet, Canada, after the Port Metro Vancouver announced plans to dredge the harbour to allow for larger vessel passage. Telus enlisted underwater divers to ensure that the removal of the cable did not harm any marine life. Once the removal was complete, the cables were then recycled.

What is the future of CSR for carriers?

Major carriers seem set to continue pursuing CSR in the future. In the wake of recent natural disasters, relief donations are increasingly part of the carrier industry’s CSR efforts. The unpredictable nature of events like earthquakes means that carriers need to adopt flexible CSR strategies that can cater to a sudden need for large donations. Restabilising communication links is extremely important after disasters and this places carriers in a unique position to provide direct aid through mobile devices and other communications infrastructure, such as AT&T’s efforts after the Haiti earthquake.

Global concerns over climate change mean that many carriers now incorporate long-term green strategies as part of their CSR programmes. These include carbon reduction, energy efficiency and water conservation, with specific reduction targets set for the next few years.

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