Corporate Social Responsibility: Benefits for Business and Community in Australia

Corporate Social Responsibility: Benefits for Business and Community in Australia

As industries and markets change and develop, so too do consumers’ expectations of the companies from which they purchase goods and services. In 2019, consumers expect companies to demonstrate similar community values and attitudes. Corporate social responsibility (CSR) practices are a means through which companies can demonstrate those shared values. Effective CSR practices benefit the community, the environment and businesses alike. Global frameworks enacted by the United Nations are a starting point, from which Australian businesses of all sizes can begin to implement their own CSR practices.

Sustainability, environmental protection and minimising corporate impact on the environment, are key aspects of modern CSR. At the same time, corporate acceptance of these ideas and values is essential to the long-term future of our planet. The UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) recognise these facts; they seek to harness the concept of CSR to help achieve positive outcomes globally. The process of developing these goals involved significant corporate engagement, which acknowledged the power of corporations in effecting social change as identified by business experts. Further evidence of engagement with the corporate sector in the development of this programme, is seen in the fact that more than 30 Australian CEOs signed a statement in support of the SDGs.

The Rice Growers’ Association of Australia (RGA) is an example of good CSR practices currently operating in Australia. Representing more than 1200 members, from large Australian corporations, to small family-owned rice farms in the Murray Valley district of Victoria, the RGA describes itself as the ‘collective voice of rice growers in Australia’. The RGA also facilitates the involvement of its members in its CSR programmes, such as the Bitterns in Rice Project. The Bittern, known locally as the Bunyip Bird, is a globally endangered bird that is found only in Australia, New Zealand and the French territory of New Caledonia.  In 2010, it became apparent that a number of Bitterns were using rice fields in the Riverina region of NSW as a substitute habitat, in the face of their traditional habitat being destroyed by the effects of urbanisation. The RGA addressed this matter by facilitating cooperation between its members, applicable government agencies and community groups, to work on understanding Bittern ecology and feeding habits. The collaboration produced data indicating that Bitterns could continue to adopt the area as their habitat. The Bitterns in Rice project is an example of exemplary CSR practice and serves as proof of the compatibility of rice farming with environmental biodiversity and a healthy environment.

Corporate social responsibility is not only the domain of large corporations and multi-national businesses. Small- to medium-sized Australian business enterprises also have the capacity to benefit their respective communities. Many already do so without formalized CSR policies or procedures. Academic research on the topic of CSR in small-to medium-sized businesses, has observed that many small businesses ‘often unknowingly adopt socially responsible practices or follow a silent or sunken version of CSR’. Furthermore, small- and medium-sized businesses are often best placed to facilitate local-level CSR programs, as they are more deeply embedded in their communities. Examples of CSR practices in small- to medium-sized businesses cover a broad spectrum: sourcing energy from green suppliers; matching and encouraging charitable donations/work by employees; sponsoring local sports teams; giving directly to local charities; going paperless in their daily business operations.

All these practices are forms of CSR and are easily achievable. Initiating a formal CSR program can also have significant financial benefits for local businesses, as well as their communities. An effective CSR program can enhance the reputation of a small business, involve it more deeply in its community and ensure the loyalty of local consumers; all of which can produce positive, long-term financial outcomes.