Local firms put profits before social welfare

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 November, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 13 November, 2007, 12:00am

A six-month study of Hong Kong companies has found only a basic level of awareness of corporate social responsibility, with most firms interested in the concept only if it helps their commercial interests.

The report found Hong Kong companies were 'very good' in terms of ethical treatment towards customers and 'rather good' in terms of environmental protection.

But their performance in promoting employees' welfare was only 'moderate', and their social contribution was 'unsatisfactory'.

The information was gleaned from a survey of 10,094 companies, which revealed that only 23 per cent were aware of the concept of 'corporate social responsibility' (CSR). And just 9 per cent were both aware of the concept and had set up a structure to implement it.

While 76 per cent of companies said they believed it could benefit them in the long run, most efforts were directed towards profitability.

'Companies' actions were mostly done in compliance with the basic ethical norms or legal measures,' said Pang King-chee, chairman of the Committee on the Promotion of Civic Education, which commissioned the survey. 'Beyond that, they practised CSR only when it helped commercial interests.'

Eighty-three per cent of companies interviewed supported commitments on ethical business operations, which include product safety, honesty in provision of price and product information, and quality after service. Eighty-one per cent backed the minimisation of negative environmental, economic and societal impact of business.

Some 86 per cent reported that they had measures to ensure the provision of clear and precise price information, and 95 per cent had certain environmental protection policies.

However, when asked about the improvement of staff's well-being, only 68 per cent considered it part of corporate social responsibility.

Care of employees' families was, among all forms of staff welfare, most unsatisfactory. A mere 15 per cent of interviewees provided benefits to staff members' families. It was also pointed out that only 18 per cent of companies had made monetary donations to charities in the past year.

The survey was carried out by the University of Hong Kong between November 2006 and April this year. Joseph Chan Cho-wai, one of the researchers, said it was the biggest-scale study on corporate social responsibility in Hong Kong and one of the largest in the world.

Lo Foo-cheung, vice-president of the Chinese Manufacturers' Association of Hong Kong, said the results reflected the real situation and urged the government to take a leading role in enhancing the concept.

Some firms suggested the government provide training and motivate action through public recognition, preferential treatment in government projects and tax incentives.