CSR-First Principle of Survival: African Business Editor, Anver Versi Was Invited to Make the Keynote Speech on Best Practices in Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability at a High-Level Seminar Held at the University of Illinois, Chicago. Following Are Excerpts from His Speech

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We need serious corporate social responsibility in the management of our world because this is the only world we have and will ever have. If we mess up this planet, which is still extremely beautiful when viewed from outer space, we will have nowhere else to go.

That's the bad news. The good news is that we can still change the world for the better.

In fact, our grandchildren or great grandchildren may look back to this time and say: "Our ancestors, faced with a monumental crisis, made bold and far reaching decisions and acted on them and laid the seeds of a brave new world in which all are now living happily and with a greater degree of prosperity than ever before in the history of the world."

We say this about our own ancestors. Now it is our turn--but the challenge is greater because the world is both bigger and smaller. But while the challenge is greater, the means available to us have also greatly increased. We have the tools to do the job. What we need is the will to go ahead and do it.

We even already have the instruments with which to do what needs to be done. We have multinational corporations. These are some of the biggest employers in the world and therefore have enormous impact on the way people live and behave.

But multinational corporations, by definition, cannot survive unless they can operate multi-nationally. In order to do so, the human and environmental health of their areas of operation has to be sound and robust. If the hosts die or are diseased, the multinational dies.

So corporate social responsibility on an international, as well as a national scale, is not simply ethical or moral or charitable; it is the first principle of survival. Every businessman and woman understands this instinctively.

A survey by Environic International, conducted in 20 countries in each of which 1,000 people were canvassed, found that in the US, in which 61% of people own shares, 25% of respondents said that they bought and sold shares on the basis of a company's social performance. This was the same proportion in Canada, Japan, Britain and Italy.

The survey also found that in the wealthier countries, CSR made greater contributions to corporate reputations than brand image; in developed countries, CSR related activities account for 49% of company image compared to 35% for brand image and only 10% for financial management.

Companies that ignore social responsibility place market share at risk--42% of North American consumers report having punished companies they regard as irresponsible by not buying their products.

In Asia by contrast, there is far less pressure, with only 8% of consumers boycotting irresponsible companies. The survey found that the most socially demanding markets are the US, Canada, Mexico and Britain; the 2nd tier countries include Argentina, EU member states, S.E. Asian countries, France, Turkey, Brazil and Chile; the least demanding are India, Russia and Nigeria.

I believe that good corporate social responsibility is not only excellent for the bottom line for individual companies but because good CSR is an essential ingredient of civil social responsibility, particularly in the developing countries if the burgeoning cities and their slums are to be transformed into creative, productive conurbations.

Let us make no mistake about it. The economies of the developed world will depend more heavily on the resources and labour in the developed world.

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