Asian Correspondent 2017 CSR 50 Index
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Asian Correspondent 2017 CSR 50 Index

Sustainability is an increasingly prominent concept in Asian society.

Driven by changing appetites around the world, companies have been investing more time and resources into instituting ethical practices. They are taking their cue from millennials, a generation of consumers more responsive to sustainable business practices than their predecessors.

Asian Correspondent's CSR 50 companies were carefully selected based on subjective and extensive research.

Here are our top 50 in Asia that have been doing well by doing good.

 

Who made our list of Asia's top corporate sustainability performers?

  • 60% of plastics dumped into the earth's oceans come from 5 countries in Asia.

  • Our readers have told us they look for ''brand's with purpose'' making a positive social impact.

  • Our methodology looked at three coverage areas: environment, social and governance.

  • Companies were selected from 12 countries across Asia.

CSR in Asia

In this globalised era, the power of the private sector often eclipses that of national governments in shaping economies, societies and the environment.

Corporate practices are growing less answerable to individual governments and domestic legislation, meaning that other forms of accountability are essential to ensure environmental sustainability and the fulfillment of human rights.

According to Bindu Sharma of the Lien Centre for Social Innovation in Singapore, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is ''the private sector's way of integrating the economic, social and environmental implications of their activities in an increasingly interdependent world.''

''It is now apparent that in order to remain current and engage with increasingly varied stakeholders, business must grapple with CSR. Doing nothing is not an option.''

Indeed, as investors and consumers grow more aware of the need for sustainable development, they are demanding that companies step up to contribute.

This is true around the world, and Asia is no exception.

As we move deeper into the 'Asian century' of rapid economic growth, the region continues to grapple with major issues of income inequality, labour rights abuses, corruption, and environmental degradation.

For example, of the eight million tonnes of plastic dumped into the earth's oceans each year, 60 percent comes from just five countries in Asia – China, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines.

As governments are, at times, powerless or reluctant to address these issues, CSR is vital in providing part of the solution.

Historically in Asia, the private sector has generally considered philanthropy as the primary form of CSR. Having been less economically developed than 'the West', issues around CSR in Asia have taken longer to come to the fore.

However, with an emerging middle class, the ascendancy of social media and greater global economic integration, this is no longer the case. The pursuit of the Sustainable Development Goals from late 2015 has provided further impetus for companies to mainstream sustainability principles into their business practices.

''Sustainability is becoming an increasingly prominent concept in society today, especially in the developing countries in Asia,'' conclude researchers from the Binus Business School in Jakarta.

Asian countries are ''gradually more aware of the increase in demands and possible benefits of including stakeholders into their governance.''

For example, the Malaysian and the Philippine stock exchanges have adjusted listing requirements to encourage greater transparency on environmental and social performance.

Indonesia has implemented mandatory reporting requirements on CSR, reflecting greater institutional recognition of the need for effective CSR across the region.

India's Companies Act of 2013 denotes that companies must designate at least 2 percent of its average net profits on pursuit of corporate social responsibility.

And for many large companies in Asia, CSR has become ''business as usual''.

According to Ethical Corporation's State of Responsible Business Report in Asia for 2016, 79 percent of executives polled stated that their CEO is convinced of the value of sustainability, while 65 percent said sustainability is actually driving revenue for their business. A total of 90 percent of respondents stated that CSR is becoming an increasingly important part of business strategy - a greater percentage than those reported by companies in Europe or North America. Half of the surveyed companies report sustainability performance to the Board, ''indicating that corporate responsibility and sustainability has a seat at the top of the organisation and is important to business strategy.''

Even more interesting is that the prevalence of CSR in Asia has not proven reliant upon levels of economic growth.

For example, some studies have shown that while India's GNP per capita remains one of the lowest in Asia, uptake of CSR practices in its private sector are impressively high.

CSR in the Asian context also often corresponds with traditional cultural notions of responsibility and obligation, as embodied by Hindu giving practices in India, Buddhism in Thailand, or gotong royong in Indonesia and even Malaysia.

 

Why create the CSR 50 ?

As CSR persists as a primary means through which to develop relationships with millennials, it is important for brands to pay attention to social causes and show sincere support rather than employing social responsibility as exclusively a marketing ploy.

For this to happen, the role of the media is crucial. The media exists in part as a check-and-balance mechanism that keeps governments on their toes and businesses honest.

As part of Asian Correspondent's contribution to this end, we decided to publish an annual run-down of what we regarded as the leading CSR stories across Asia.

Forbes compiles an annual index of companies with the 'Best CSR Reputations in the World', yet by its own admission this is ''merely an indicator of which firms consumers believe are socially responsible.''

Asian Correspondent wanted to identify companies whose practices really are socially responsible.

''We did not want a haphazard list glorifying companies claiming to support a belief they picked at random... We were looking for honesty and consistency, and a true commitment to sustainable goals... because that's what our generation of readers - the millennials – will want,'' says Clara Chooi, Editor-in-Chief, Asian Correspondent.

''A major challenge has been differentiating between brands that greenwash their actions to look good on paper and those that illustrate they are truly standing for a purpose.''

As the largest consumer generation that has ever lived, millennials are dictating trends and appetites across the world. They are also known as the Green Generation, which means they are more socially and environmentally-conscious, prioritise purpose and sustainability over financial reward, and are better connected and informed than consumers of generations past. They also spend a lot more - millennials are expected to fork out more than US$200 billion annually from this year and US$10 trillion in their lifetime.

''We did our best to take note of all these key factors in the index,'' Chooi adds.

 

Methodology for selecting countries

The companies included in Asian Correspondent's CSR Asia Top 50 Initiatives were selected based on subjective and extensive research.

Our methodology for this Index looked broadly at three coverage areas: environment, social, and governance.

The areas investigated to decide who qualified for the Top 50 include:

Resource management: Energy, carbon, water, waste

Employee management: Safety, diversity, ethical labour practices, incentives

Financial management: Innovation, supply chain, CEO pay, taxation

Philanthropy: Volunteering, donations, foundations, community work

Self-regulation, adhering to 'triple bottom line' reporting practices that highlight social and environmental as well as financial performance, and instigating community development projects that have genuine impact, are on the rise among Asia's private sector.

The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) entails rigorous analysis of 36 economic, environmental and social Sustainability Reporting Standards that cover governance issues from market presence and anti-corruption; to energy, biodiversity and waste; and human rights compliance, non-discrimination and freedom of association.

The number of Asian companies using the GRI to report CSR performance is growing.

This, we thought, should be celebrated.

Employing stringent modes of reporting CSR initiatives and sustainable business practices is fundamentally important. Thus, transparency was a key criterion for this list.

Our selected firms all have set sustainability goals, track their progress and hold themselves accountable for achieving these objectives (or not). Reports are issued either annually or bi-annually, with a stringent and comprehensive methodology like the GRI, and with the latest report being published in 2014 or later.

In compiling this list, Asian Correspondent engaged with dozens of academics and CSR experts from across the globe including in the Asia-Pacific.

We also drew on a range of objective rankings including the Corporate Knights Global 100 and the Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI).

Our primary goal was to look for outstanding performance stories in the above areas, stories that illustrated the intention to build a ''brand with purpose.''

 

Geography and ratings

In respect of Asian Correspondent's region of coverage, the firms selected for this list are Asia-based.

They are also listed in no particular order or ranking as we felt that in order to transform our data into a meaningful ratings system, there needs to be universally accepted baselines or an agreement on how to assign weightage to initiatives deemed wrong, right, better or worse. As such, we felt each chosen company deserved fair mention in this list.

The CSR 50 arranged alphabetically:

** Text and research by Max Walden and Asian Correspondent News Bureau. Editing by Clara Chooi.