Consolidating Social Responsibility

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Philip Proctor is the Managing Director and Director of Engineering at Reed Consulting Bangladesh. He was formerly the Safety, Health and Environment Advisor at DuPont Teijin Films (UK) Ltd. and a European Electrical Safety Professional for DuPont EMEA. Philip has spent over 35 years in high hazard industries with expertise including electrical engineering, environmental and energy auditing, occupational health and safety, fire safety and accident investigation.

Alastair Currie is the Principal Mechanical Engineer at Reed Consulting Bangladesh. Alastair has achieved a First Class Honours Bachelor degree in Mechanical Engineering from the Herriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, Scotland. He has worked in the oil and gas industry for 7 years.

Employers are in a unique position where their actions can have a significant, positive effect. At Reed Consulting, we work with clients to help them go beyond compliance, and we demonstrate the financial benefits to a healthy, safe and content workforce. 

What is the status of CSR or SR in Bangladesh?
Phillip: At Reed Consulting, we prefer the term Socially Responsible (SR). The word ‘Corporate’ makes it sound as though it’s only multinational or large organizations that should behave in a socially responsible manner. However, at Reed Consulting, we think it is evident that every person on the planet has a responsibility to act in a socially responsible manner.
The concept of social responsibility for companies is relatively new in Bangladesh, but thousands of organizations are starting to adopt ethical policies or codes of conduct detailing how they intend to behave. There is a significant degree of potential to bring out improvements. The challenges include implementing SR correctly in Bangladesh. Simply having an SR policy will not suffice; a company must meet the basic legal standards regarding workers’ rights to embody this idea truly. Foreign buyers often try to demand or encourage socially responsible practices, but for a company to be truly socially responsible, they have to decide themselves that they want to meet and exceed their moral and ethical duties.
Employers are in a unique position where their actions can have a significant, positive effect. At Reed Consulting, we work with clients to help them go beyond compliance, and we demonstrate the financial benefits to a healthy, safe and content workforce. Our strapline is “Reed Consulting Bangladesh Ltd. enabling businesses in Bangladesh to be socially responsible, sustainable and profitable”. We firmly believe that if SR is done properly, it’s a win-win situation.

You are working with SR in Garments industry of Bangladesh, which is a labor-intensive industry and part of global supply chain. What is the real scenario here?
Alastair: Bangladesh relies on the Readymade Garment Industry (RMG) for around 80% of its exports and about 4 million jobs. As it is a labor intensive industry, it is in a unique position to affect so many lives by its actions. Beyond the 4 million employees, the proficient practice of social responsibility will also impact the families of these workers. Sadly there numerous factories that fail to implement proper social responsibility. A significant number of them fail to meet even the basic human rights of the people they employ. Generally, workers have very little power in Bangladesh, and their voices are often ignored. It is a sad fact that many more people will suffer injury, ill health or even die from the conditions in which they have to work. They have little choice in many cases and have to work in poor conditions to provide for their families. Many factories have administered forward thinking policies; their positive outcomes are a favorable sign.

How do you define SR in the context of Bangladesh?
Alastair: Historically SR in Bangladesh consisted of philanthropic activities which included donations to charities, poor people, and religious institutions. Many businesses in Bangladesh were family owned and had a limited management structure or resources to address social and environmental issues. However, giving a donation to a worthy charity does not allow a company to ignore all their other responsibilities.
It’s all about sustainability these days; an adequate SR policy is recognized as an essential element in the business development plan of any forward thinking company. Good SR systems drive change. With well-defined objectives and measurable targets, a good SR system will provide the structure to create a more sustainable and ethical business. If a business is truly sustainable and ethical, then it is good news for the workers, community, clients, and owners and also for profits.

What are the critical success factors in the case of Bangladesh RMG where you’re working? What is your recommendation to improve the situation?
Phillip: We help garment manufacturers to implement SR strategies and identify where current practices can be enhanced. The benefits are starting to show with early adopters of good Social Responsibility standards recognizing the benefits of lower staff turnover, higher skills development, reduced error rates, lower sick rates and that contentment and productivity go hand in hand. All these benefits have a positive effect on business.
For a company to understand the importance of improving their sustainability is a very critical factor. If a company understands the significance of reducing electricity consumption, improving productivity and the health and safety conditions of the workers, then it is likely they will also understand the benefits of SR. We have found that the factories who work with us to improve their environmental performance and increase their productivity are more likely to work naturally towards a good SR policy. These areas are all linked in the concept of the ‘triple bottom line’: Planet, People, and Profit. SR states that a company must consider all three areas to be truly successful, if profits are emphasized over and above a company’s impact on the environment, then, in the long run, it will turn out to not be sustainable. A better understanding of the importance of the triple bottom line is required so that business owners, entrepreneurs and interested persons grasp the importance of SR for the long-term sustainability of a business.

As human rights are also a part of SR how can it be implemented?
Alastair: Our fundamental rights are based on values like dignity, fairness, equality, respect and independence. Incorporating and applying these values to company policies show that a company takes its responsibilities seriously. It’s basically about treating people fairly. For example: having written contracts for all employees, paying wages on time and in full, not enforcing overtime, etc. These are all examples of how companies can show they have successful, sustainable and progressive standards. Also having systems in place to deal fairly with complaints such as sexual harassment are very important, it all helps to achieve dignity and demonstrate care.

What part does occupational health and safety play in Bangladesh?
Phillip: Occupational health and safety (OHS) plays a vital role in any company’s attempts to meet legal compliance social standards. OHS in Bangladesh is still developing, and the current laws and acts only refer to certain industries and manufacturing processes, and not all workers or occupations are covered.
Companies who wish to be sustainable and meet, or even exceed, social standards should adopt good OHS practices covering everything from occupational hygiene, occupational diseases, accident prevention, protection to vulnerable people in dangerous occupations and also include working conditions, working hours, welfare facilities, holidays and leave. As many of the laws set low standards or do not correctly apply, then it is often left to the industry itself or external forces such as foreign buyers to set standards. Reed Consulting can help businesses by developing OHS policies and draws on the experience of our own world class experienced Occupational Health and Safety Professionals.

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