Footwear and apparels giant Nike acknowledged its socially irresponsible behaviour in the early 1990s and spoke about the soul-searching that led to its corporate social responsibility policy at the CLSA Investors Forum yesterday. 'We were a bunch of shoe geeks who expanded so much without thinking of being socially responsible that we went from being a very big sexy brand name to suddenly becoming the poster boy for everything bad in manufacturing,' Harsh Saini, Nike's corporate and social responsibility manager, said. The company had not been keeping track of how its partners were operating in developing nations, Ms Saini acknowledged, until the media and non-governmental organisations revealed the prevalence of sweatshops producing the goods. 'We just closed our doors and huddled - it was such a big shock to us,' Ms Saini said. 'But in the mid-1990s we did a lot of soul searching . . . and we realised if we still want to be the brand of choice in 20 years, we had certain responsibilities to fulfil.' Ms Saini joined representatives from Shell and Li & Fung in touting the benefits of socially responsible business, citing a happier workforce, higher productivity and enhanced brand reputation as some of the returns. Shell's director of international trading, Tan Chong-meng, said that after its own bout of bad press, it had to consider balancing business with social responsibilities and developed a framework of sustainable development. 'Being concerned opens you up to opportunities as well - it's not just a defensive move,' he said. 'If you look into the future, how will you discover the opportunities and relevancy of your company if you do not respect the demands of stakeholders.' Shell developed its renewable energy business as a sustainable venture but it has become one that will create opportunities for the company in the future. Former legislator and founder of activist group Civic Exchange, Christine Loh Kung-wai, who moderated the panel discussion, was optimistic about the development of socially responsible business in Hong Kong. 'The consumer and investment movements are still very weak in Hong Kong, but we do have some leading local firms like Li & Fung that are starting a trend which I think others will follow,' she said. The United Nations has also drafted a voluntary set of standards called the Global Compact, to which 400 companies have signed, including Nike, Shell and the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corp. 'We all know about herd instincts,' Ms Loh said. 'It is only a matter of time before the movement strengthens - it's all a matter of education.'