The Debate over Corporate Social Responsibility

By Steve May; George Cheney et al. | Go to book overview

8

Corporate Social Responsibility
and Public Relations
Perceptions and Practices in Singapore

KRISHNAMURTHY SRIRAMESH CHEW WEE NG SOH TING TING LUO WANYIN

Long recognized as one of the “Asian Tigers,” Singapore (whose name means Lion City and thus the city's Merlion mascot) is one of the leading economic centers in Asia. After becoming a Republic in 1965, the island-state developed rapidly within two generations and currently has the third highest per capita gross domestic product (after Japan and Hong Kong) in Asia. Without resting on its laurels, this country with no natural resources is trying to stay economically competitive through various strategies including attracting greater foreign investment. It is in this context that corporate social responsibility (CSR) is relevant to Singapore. The government, for example, prides itself as being both a promoter and practitioner of CSR (Balakrishnan, 2004). Corporations, too, are allocating more resources to CSR practices (Khanna, 2004a). Tor (2004) remarked that Singaporeans cannot get through the first decade of this millennium without knowing about CSR. The British High Commissioner to Singapore remarked that “the stage is now set for a CSR revolution in Singapore” (Collins, 2004). All these factors served as the rationale for us to conduct the wide-ranging analysis of the status of CSR in Singapore that is the focus of this chapter.

Located just 137 kilometers north of the equator, Singapore is a very cosmopolitan and multiethnic society of 4.24 million (Singapore Department of Statistics, 2004) people living in one main island and about 50 islets covering about 685 km2. More than three-quarters of the population are of Chinese ethnicity, while 14% are Malay and 8% Indian. The city-state is also temporary home to almost 800,000 foreign nationals who are not Singaporean citizens or permanent residents. English is the lingua franca in business and educational settings, while Chinese, Malay, and Tamil are the other three official languages.

The Peoples Action Party (PAP) is the only party that has held power since Singapore became a republic in 1965, leading what was a struggling developing country at birth to a robust economy in a matter of two generations. The republic has attracted foreign investment, particularly in high technology, banking, petroleum, and shipping sectors, by developing a robust infrastructure and low corruption in governance. Singapore is currently the 12th largest trading partner of the United States, with whom it began a free trade relationship in January 2005.

However, Singapore is constantly trying to retool itself to remain competitive. The government set up two initiatives—Remaking Singapore and Singapore 21—in order to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century (Sriramesh & Rivera, 2006). Although it is a parliamentary democracy where it is mandatory for citizens to vote, observers have also criticized it for low levels of political pluralism (e.g., Chua, 1995; Ho, 2000; Yuen, 1999). This is borne out by the fact that the ruling PAP has 82 of 84 parliamentary seats. So, its rapid

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