Corporate Social Responsibility Initiatives Addressing Social Exclusion in Bangladesh
Werner, Wendy J., Journal of Health Population and Nutrition
Improving the health and welfare of socially-excluded populations depends on enabling socially-excluded populations to meet their health, nutrition, and educational needs. Social change through, for instance, economic empowerment and reduced inequality has been critical in enabling socially-excluded populations to meet their basic human needs. In some cases, human needs can be met through various public-sector and non-governmental organizations (NGO) programmes. However, the ability of the public sector to fulfill the long-term requirements of this population segment can be limited. To achieve sustainable improvements in the health and welfare of socially-excluded populations, sustainable solutions must be found that provide the populations themselves with resources and integrate these structural changes into societal institutions. As the private sector is an important and growing force in least-developed countries, the analysis considers the potential for private-sector initiatives and partnerships--collectively labelled corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives--to impact social status, earning potential, and access to services and resources for socially-excluded populations.
CSR is an increasingly important tool to maximize the positive development impact of corporations and commercial activity in the developing world. In Bangladesh, companies, civil society organizations (CSOs)/NGOs, and development partners have adapted international practices of CSR to the local context and are working in partnership to improve employment opportunities and healthcare for excluded groups.
Interesting and significant questions remain about CSR initiatives, particularly in developing countries. The analysis presents some of these issues in the context of Bangladesh, which exhibits parallels with other resource-constrained developing countries. In an environment of weak enforcement of regulations, is compliance with local labour and health standards treated as CSR? Is it appropriate for a commercial entity to help provide basic community services and infrastructure? Does reliance on corporations make socially-excluded populations more vulnerable in the case of economic difficulties or shifting corporate priorities? How can NGOs, civil society, and the Government work with corporations without compromising their unique purpose and mission? The analysis of CSR case studies attempts to provide some insights into these critical questions and makes recommendations for how to design a strategy to engage the private sector in addressing the needs of socially-excluded populations while avoiding potential pitfalls.
CSR activities in Bangladesh provide specific examples of CSR implemented in developing countries from which one can draw critical lessons and recommendations for international efforts to harness the power of the private sector to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and improve the health and welfare of socially-excluded populations. The CSR examples included in this analysis were selected purposively to represent different strategies of the CSR--both pure private sector and partnerships of the private sector and NGOs. The paper draws from available published and grey literature and fact-checking with stakeholders.
CORPORATE SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY AND DEVELOPMENT
CSR is an evolving concept globally but, in Bangladesh, it has been defined as a set of business practices based on ethical norms and transparency that contributes to the sustainable development of internal and external stakeholders in the best interest of business society and environment [Bangladesh Enterprise Institute. Script for CSR documentary feature (corporate). 2006 (Unpublished)]. A socially-responsible firm holds a holistic view of itself in relation to its stakeholders and measures its performance via a triple bottom-line: economic/ financial, environmental, and social. CSR seeks a path which advances all the three measures, none at the cost of the others. …