The European Commission defines Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) as ‘the responsibility of enterprises for their impacts on society’. CSR includes voluntary initiatives or practices that businesses or organisations engage in which go “beyond compliance”.
Following a call to action on CSR by the European Commission, as part of the Action Plan for Jobs 2013, the Government undertook to publish a National Plan for CSR. The first Plan ‘Good for Business, Good for the Community’ was published in 2014 and aimed to raise awareness of the benefits of CSR to business and all stakeholders in society. The second plan, Towards Responsible Business’ Ireland’s National Plan on Corporate Social Responsibility 2017-2020, wants to ensure that businesses, in particular SMEs, understand the economic and social benefits that CSR can bring to businesses, large and small.
The Plan aims, over three years, to position Ireland as a ‘Centre of Excellence for responsible and sustainable business practice through the adoption of best practice in CSR’ four dimensions - Workplace, Marketplace, Environment and Community. Businesses and organisations that embed CSR at the heart of their business planning can improve their competitiveness, sustainability, attract and retain talent, whilst fostering social cohesion and protecting the environment.
Implementation of the Plan is driven by the CSR Stakeholder Forum. Its membership comprises of representatives of the business sector, Government Departments and agencies and the wider community and it is chaired by Catherine Heaney, MD DHR Communications. As a voluntary business led Forum, the primary focus of the CSR Stakeholder Forum is to; raise awareness of CSR for businesses and organisations operating in Ireland today; facilitate information exchange; and encourage best practice peer learning opportunities; in accordance with current Government policy objectives. The Forum meets three times a year. Minutes from the meetings are published on csrhub.ie. My Department provides secretariat to the Forum and actively drives awareness of CSR through dedicated communications channels including csrhub.ie.
An annual progress update - CSR Check, prepared by my Department in conjunction with the CSR Stakeholder Forum, is produced on an annual basis. It was first produced in June 2018 along with the first CSR CEO/Leaders Breakfast event. Over 100 leaders from across Government, business and public sectors came together at the meeting. The second CEO/Leaders’ Breakfast is scheduled for 27th June 2019.
CSR activities within business range across, employee initiatives such as volunteering, to initiatives that seek to reduce business impact on the environment. Not of this activity is measurable and/or is difficult to measure. The CSR Forum commissioned baseline research on CSR in Ireland, published on the Department’s CSR website csrhub.ie. It indicated that the majority of businesses (80% of a sample of 1,300) regarded CSR as “very important” or “moderately important”. The survey highlighted a challenge for smaller companies engaging with workplace CSR. Growing the amount of quantitative and qualitative analysis of CSR activity in businesses and other organisations in Ireland will continue to be a key objective of the CSR Stakeholder Forum.
In addition to what the CSR Forum itself can potentially monitor in terms of progress, a tangible indicator of business engagement with CSR in Ireland is reflected in the roll-out of the Business Working Responsibly Mark by Business in the Community Ireland (BITCI). BITCI, a CSR Forum member, launched the ‘Mark’ in 2010 - the first certified standard for sustainability and CSR in Ireland. It is audited by the National Standard Authority of Ireland/NSAI and based on ISO 26000. It is a three-stage process; 1) questionnaire, 2) evaluation and 3) audit by the NSAI. Currently, 33 companies in Ireland have the Mark. Once achieved it is valid for three years. The cost is borne by the business.
Elsewhere, the European Union (Disclosure of Non-Financial and Diversity Information by certain large undertakings and groups) Regulations 2017(SI No 360 of 2017) were signed into Irish law on 30 July 2017 and came into operation on 21 August 2017. The Regulations, which transpose EU Directive 2014/95/EU, require certain specified large companies such as banks, insurance undertakings and listed companies with more than 500 employees to annually disclose certain company information of a non-financial nature. That information includes environmental matters, social and employee related issues, respect for human rights and bribery and corruption matters. The Regulations also require large listed companies to report annually on the diversity policy applied in respect of the board of directors. Failure to comply with this requirement to disclose non-financial information is an offence and any person found guilty is liable on summary conviction to a class A fine or imprisonment not exceeding 6 months, or to both. This is the responsibility of my agency, the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement.
Across Government there are related policy initiatives which have measurable outputs and targets such as the Sustainable Development Goals National Implementation Plan 2018-2020, which provides a whole-of-government approach to implement the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs provide an important framework for businesses and organisations engaging with CSR. In addition, the Government’s Climate Action Plan, launched in June 2019, outlines the current state of play across key sectors including Electricity, Transport, Built Environment, Industry and Agriculture and charts a course towards ambitious decarbonisation targets. The Plan sets out 180 actions and will be will be monitored and annually updated, with actions reported on quarterly. In addition, a Climate Action Delivery Board will be established within the Department of An Taoiseach which will hold each Department and public body accountable for the delivery of actions set out in the Plan.