THE ESTABLISHMENT of comprehensive corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategies can be traced back to the actions taken by certain US-based multinationals in the 1980s. Hong Kong companies still have some way to go to be on a par with them, even though the past decade has seen some improvement. 'Corporate social responsibility is sadly not as advanced as it should be in Hong Kong,' said Venkat Subramanian, assistant professor in strategy at the University of Hong Kong's Faculty of Business and Economics. The limited progress can partly be attributed to the city's work ethic, which holds that productivity is the key to everything and that staff should spend the maximum number of hours at work. This often leaves little time for anything else. Also, the quest for profits, intense competition and the pressure to deliver better results have caused many firms to put CSR on the back burner. But there are encouraging signs that the growing emphasis on CSR in certain overseas markets is having a positive impact. 'It has definitely become a bigger issue in Hong Kong today and there is much greater awareness,' Professor Subramanian said. A certain impetus has been created by the fact that more consumers are aware of environmental issues, and are well informed about manufacturing processes and what they buy. They want to know, for example, where a product is made or what the ingredients are, and this has put additional pressure on companies to do the right thing. Consumer expectations are changing and companies must respond accordingly. 'In future, much may depend on whether CSR is left to market forces or is driven by government regulation,' Professor Subramanian said. 'If done by regulation, it should happen sooner; if left to market forces, it could take longer - but it will still happen eventually.' Socially responsible companies that have already taken the lead are convinced that the general rate of progress is accelerating. It may not happen overnight, but there is a feeling that Hong Kong companies will have to implement CSR policies which match the highest international standards. 'We will get there one day,' said Yeung Ka-sing, head of corporate human resources at Towngas.