Swedish companies are rightly seen as pioneers in many aspects of corporate social responsibility (CSR), recognising and accepting the wider obligations that are very much a part of international business.
'With size comes responsibility and influence,' says Marcus Wilert, who heads CSR programme development in the Far East for fashion retailer H&M. 'We do our best to ensure the clothes we offer have been made, transported and sold under good working conditions, and with limited impact on the environment.'
Wilert notes that in a global economy, it is not a question of whether companies like his should have a manufacturing and sales presence in developing markets. The issue is how to go about it. The goal must be to set a positive example in each community and make a long-term impact that extends beyond production or revenue targets.
To help each department find new ways of promoting socially and environmentally sustainable practices, the company introduced seven broad commitments last year.
'By shifting the focus internally, CSR is now integrated into everything we do,' Wilert says.
'It is shared and managed by every department, while head office provides expertise and support for the process.'
H&M has joined the Fair Wage Network to press for better payment for all workers across the entire garment sector. 'The challenge is to present our vision and goals and demonstrate [how the proposed action] links to our core business. Suppliers who see the value of sustainability often make great strides to develop and improve their operations,' Wilert says.
Thommy Jarlefelt, Hong Kong-based managing director of ICA Global Sourcing, is similarly convinced of the need to regard CSR as fundamental gauge of what makes a good business.
As a participant in the United Nations Global Compact, his company is alert to issues that stretch from the observance of human rights to anti-corruption measures and protecting the environment.
'Sustainable development not only means reducing our own impact on the environment and society, but also that of our customers,' Jarlefelt says.