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Companies urged to foot social costs
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Developing nations have remained manufacturing hubs for developed countries for more than three decades. But people in these fast-growing developing countries continue to suffer from environmental woes, lack of resources and low pay.

Should the foreign enterprises, which contract out manufacturing jobs to the developing Asian nations, fulfill their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) across borders?

This question seemed unpopular at a panel discussion of Boao Forum for Asia. Entrepreneurs and CSR researchers remained silent when a member of the audience posed the query.

Xiang Feng, public affairs director of UPS China, who raised the question, later told China Daily his concerns.

"It's an important factor when defining the boundaries of CSR," Xiang said.

He said when politicians, businessmen and opinion leaders sit together to discuss the CSR issue was unavoidable and foreign enterprises must extend their own local social responsibilities to other countries.

He said companies in developed countries today have to shoulder the same responsibilities as their host nations.

Broadening globalization will force companies in developing countries, such as China and India, to take their responsibilities tomorrow.

"That is an important component to make the world peaceful and harmonious," said Xiang.

At the weekend discussion, the panelists, such as New Hope Group chairman Liu Yonghao and Tata Sons Ltd executive director Alan Rosling, did not address the issue.

Instead, they said they were willing to act in a practical manner according to local conditions.

Socially responsible investment, branding and even marketing were high on their list of social responsibilities.

Liu said "honestly fulfilling the content in the contracts" was part of a company's social responsibility.

"We should not make farmers lose," Liu vowed, adding that his company had subsidized farmers when the meat prices were low.

Some panelists pointed out that, in the Internet era, companies are faced with challenges of information transparency.

Even when they don't release information, stakeholders can use the Internet to publicize all their activities, good deeds and wrongdoings.

Yang Wenjun, president of the Inner Mongolia Mengniu Dairy Group, said his company had offered free milk for 1,000 rural schools in poorer counties.

However, some said this kind of charity activity was related to branding and marketing and not about charitable deeds.

But Peng Xiancheng, president of Sichuan-based chemical company Decision, strongly believes that "charity should be the most important part of CSR".

According to Asian culture, one does not want gratitude or fame by doing charitable deeds, Peng said. He said that many companies were obsessed with publicity when fulfilling their responsibilities.

"For some, the donation ceremony even costs more than their donation. I cannot accept that," he said.

(China Daily April 14, 2008)

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