This research note explores the extent of publicised employee-focused corporate social responsibility ("CSR") initiatives in the banking sector. It assesses a number of New Zealand/Australian ("NZ/AUS") and European banks by comparing their current stated employee-focused CSR practices and policies (by means of CSR reports, annual reports, and web-based information) with current academic literature and international regulatory standards. There is a general assumption in the literature that the European banks are superior in their practises and reporting initiatives in employee-focused CSR. However, based on this initial assessment of the NZ/AUS banks' reports, there is some evidence the antipodean banks are perhaps more thorough and detailed regarding certain employee-focused CSR practices than some of the Northern Hemisphere counterparts. The paper concludes with a summary of the limitations of the extant research and suggestions for further research.
Despite 70 years of intense academic debate surrounding the concept of 'corporate social responsibility', there is still no universally accepted definition (Whitehouse, 2006). While this has in part hindered its development, corporate social responsibility (CSR) has once again received renewed interest and become part of mainstream business practice (Garriga and Melé, 2004), due in part to the renewed strategic attention being given to employer branding and human resource management ("HRM") issues (Walker and Higgins, 2008). Environmental issues still however dominate the CSR debate, while employee issues are yet to be highlighted as much in business reporting and in academic literature, despite employees' growing importance to businesses' refocus on their customer service standards (Decker, 2004).
The central research question that underpins this paper is to better understand why CSR is important to modern corporations, how employees fit into this increasingly broad subject, and what is being done to support them as an element of CSR, customer service and business strategy. In particular, this paper reports on the initial stages of a study - namely a review of the extent of academic research including Global Reporting Initiative standards and the corporate literature surrounding employee-focused CSR. Based on the review of the literature, a number of employee-focused themes will be established to assess the degree of employee-focused reporting in a selection of European/International and NZ/AUS banks.
There is an extensive debate surrounding CSR, dating back to the 1950's when Bowen (1953, as cited in Garriga and Mel, 2004) published his book 'Social Responsibilities of the Businessman'. Since the early 1990's the field has grown substantially, leading to an increased global consciousness of corporations, due to "a proliferation of media and NGO exposes on violations of corporate behaviour with regard to human rights, environmental principles and labour laws" (Hill, 2006: 519).
With a significant increase in scope over the years, it has become apparent that CSR incorporates a number of different elements (Decker, 2004: 714) and therefore, while there is still no finite definition of 'Corporate Social Responsibility' a meaningful definition needs to be dynamic (ibid). For the purposes of this review, the definition by Holmes and Watts' (2000: 1) will be used:
"CSR relates to a firm's commitment to contribute to sustainable economic development, working with employees, their families, local communities and society at large to improve general quality of life".
Greater international interconnectedness (globalisation) has resulted in increased choice for consumers but, in turn, has also increased competition for businesses (Bamber, Lansbury and Wailes, 2004). For the service sector, this means vying for more informed and less loyal customers (Boone and Kurtz, 2004). Services have therefore refocused on customer relations, relying increasingly on front-line staff to achieve this (Nixon, 2001). …