When corporate social responsibility emerged as a concept in the 1960s, critics have argued that CSR distracts from the fundamental economic role of businesses, which is to make profit.
However, following almost half a century of debate, most researchers have come to a different conclusion: companies that successfully align their social and environmental responsibilities with their business purposes and values can better mitigate risks, enhance their reputation and achieve improved financial results.
This proven link between CSR and profitability has encouraged an increasing number of Lebanese organizations who have long practiced some form of social and environmental responsibility to bring discipline to their strategies through the uptake of the ISO 26000.
ISO 26000 provides guidance on how businesses and organizations can operate in a socially responsible way, according to the official definition provided by the International Standards Organization, the world’s largest independent developer of voluntary International Standards.
The standard was launched in 2010 following five years of negotiations between a working group of about 500 experts including representatives of government bodies, NGO’s, consumer groups and labor organizations around the world. In 2011, the project on the uptake and use of ISO 26000 within the Middle East and North Africa region was launched, targeting eight pilot countries, namely, Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia, Syria and Lebanon. The aim of the project was to build capacity within each of the selected countries, using the national standards body as the central pivot.
Taking on ISO 26000 in Lebanon
In Lebanon, the Lebanese Standards Institution (LIBNOR), a public establishment affiliated to the Industry Ministry, has guided the implementation of the program, which brought together 15 pilot organizations from across the country.
Mohamad Chamas, head of services department and quality manager at LIBNOR, told “Responsible Business” that the project aims to build local capacity on ISO 26000, allowing organizations to apply CSR principles in their operations.
Chamas explains that Lebanon--through LIBNOR--has participated in negotiations that preceded the launch of ISO 26000 worldwide, noting that the implementation of the project in MENA countries was funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida).
Unlike other standards, ISO 26000 doesn’t set requirements but rather provide guidance for all types of organizations regardless of their activity, size or location on the integration of CSR strategies into their business operations, says Chamas.
“ISO 26000 provides guidance rather than requirements, so it cannot be certified to unlike some other well-known ISO standards,” he explains.
The project was deployed in two phases. The first phase of the program, which kicked off in 2011, comprised the training of 16 national experts on ISO 26000 and its application. The national experts then provided technical support for the implementation of ISO 26000 across 15 pilot organizations.
Chamas, who participated along with international experts in the training of the 16 national experts, says two organizations were selected to participate in the program in 2011 while four joined a year later and nine enrolled in 2013.
The program changed the perception that many participating organizations had of CSR, Chamas says.
“At first, we faced difficulties convincing some organizations that CSR is more than just philanthropy and charitable donations. We wanted participants to understand that CSR is not a target but a catalyst of sustainable development,” he explains.
Chamas says LIBNOR launched several awareness campaigns to introduce ISO 26000 to business and organizations across Lebanon.
Two national experts were then appointed to guide each of the 15 pilot organizations through a two-stage plan comprising a gap analysis and an action plan.
The commitment of pilot organizations to the implementation of ISO 26000 was a key aspect of the program, Chamas says.
“ISO 26000 is a voluntary guideline so its implementation wouldn’t have been possible without commitment from the middle and top management of pilot organizations,” Chamas adds.
Lebanese Banks Embrace ISO 26000
Following the completion of the program, three pilot organizations from Lebanon comprising Banque Libano-Française (BLF), Ksara and al Kawther College were selected as case studies in the MENA region.
Tania Rizk, Corporate and Marketing Communications Director at BLF,told “Responsible Business” that the bank was selected in 2013 by LIBNOR to participate in the uptake and use of ISO 26000 guidelines.
Shortly after joining the program, BLF conducted an extensive gap analysis targeting all domains covered by ISO 26000, Rizk says.
The gap analysis tackled seven core subjects that included organizational governance, human rights, labor practices, environment, fair operating practices, consumer issues and community development.
Once the gap analysis was completed, BLF drafted an action plan covering the 2013-2019 period, Rizk explains, noting that BLF had to rethink the way CSR is incorporated into its business operations.
BLF’s action plan features a complete review of the bank’s corporate governance framework, paving the way for the future incorporation of CSR objectives into each business units.
Rizk says the progress on the implementation of the ISO 26000 guidelines will be monitored by a standalone CSR committee headed by the BLF’s chairman.
BLF, however, wasn’t the only Lebanese bank to join the program. Bank Audi, Lebanon’s largest lender in terms of assets, was the first financial institution to enroll in the LIBNOR project.
Following four months that featured over 20 meetings between Bank Audi’s management and two national experts assigned by LIBNOR, the bank devised an action plan based on the findings of its gap analysis, says Hasmig Khoury, head of Bank Audi’s CSR unit.
The action plan, which focused on the promotion of a sustainable supply chain management and good corporate citizenship, was implemented over the course of five months, Khoury adds.
“The gap analysis was converted into an action plan that we started implementing by tackling priority issues,” Khoury explains.
For instance, Bank Audi added a clause to its request for quotation, favoring suppliers who abide by the declaration of human rights, are committed to fighting corruption and aspire to adopt the ISO 26000 social responsibility guidelines as part of their business strategy.
“Bank Audi is entitled to favor suppliers who through their business practices recognize and abide by the universal declaration of human rights and are in the process of implementing eco-friendly initiatives … and generally aspire to adopt the ISO 26000 social responsibility guidelines as part of their business strategy,” the clause reads, according to Khoury.
BLOM bank, Lebanon’s second largest lender, also embarked on the LIBNOR project.
“CSR is already embedded in our values. So we asked ourselves a simple question: why not seize the opportunity to further integrate and institutionalize CSR practices,” said Isabelle Naoum, head of corporate communications at BLOM bank.
The gap analysis at BLOM bank involved an assessment of CSR practices in each of the bank’s departments, Naoum explained. Once the assessment was complete, the bank drafted an action plan that is being implemented in phases.
“The action plan is a continuous process,” Naoum says.
A Long Road Ahead
Omar Sakr, human resources and administrative manager at Shtrumpf restaurant chain, which joined the LIBNOR program two years ago, believes that the implementation of the action plan is an ongoing process that demands more effort as the company grows.
A lecturer on sustainable tourism and hospitality management at Notre Dame University, Sakr, who earned himself the title of national expert, had approached the government since 2009, seeking public private partnership to promote CSR since 2009.It wasn’t until today that this partnership truly materialized.
Sakr concedes that much remains to be done to meet the objectives set in the action plan but adds that Shtrumpf has already made significant progress.
For instance, Shtrumpf introduced CSR performance measurements into managers’ performance appraisal.
The same applies to the recruitment process to determine whether potential employees are socially oriented, Sakr explains.
On the environmental front, Shtrumpf is committed to recycling both solid and liquid waste. Frying oil, for instance, is being processed into biodiesel destined for household heating.
“ISO 26000 allowed Shtrumpf to adopt a more structured, comprehensive and institutionalized approach to CSR,” Sakr concludes.
Source: Responsible Business Magazine