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Businesses should regard CSR as long-term investment: experts
By Minh Tuan
Saturday,  Nov 21, 2020,14:53 (GMT+7)

Businesses should regard CSR as long-term investment: experts

By Minh Tuan

Panelists at the seminar themed “CSR Endeavor: Toward sustainable development” held as part of the Saigon Times CSR 2020 Merit Ceremony on Friday

HCMC - Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is commonly defined by businesses in Vietnam as charity work and regarded as a part of their operational costs. However, they should see CSR as a long-term investment for the sustainable development of the community and themselves, noted experts at a seminar on November 20.

The seminar, themed “CSR Endeavor: Toward sustainable development”, was part of the Saigon Times CSR 2020 Merit Ceremony held by The Saigon Times (english.thesaigontimes.vn), the English news site of the Saigon Times Group. The merit ceremony gathered experts and leaders of companies with outstanding CSR practices.

Binu Jacob, Nestlé Vietnam CEO, said businesses should start believing that CSR is a nice-to-do, not a must-do. “The thinking has to shift. CSR is something that benefits the company […] Companies should start thinking about how they can make a difference to the society, while at the same time making a difference to themselves and benefiting them in the long run. When these two things come together, then comes sustainability,” he shared.

“If you start thinking that CSR involves a lot of money and resources, then you start thinking of costs. But if you start thinking about it as an investment, then you start thinking about how to do more of it and make more business sense. 

“In the Central Highlands of Vietnam, one of the largest coffee growing regions in the world, many farmers have small farm plots, commonly only one hectare. In the last 10 years or so, Nestlé has been supporting thousands of farmers in the region to improve the quality of their coffee, reduce their water usage by over 40% and cut the use of pesticides.” 

As a result of this, the productivity of coffee has increased and the income of farmers has doubled over the last 10 years. Jacob noted, “We wish we could help 10 times more farmers so more people can benefit. This makes sense for businesses, the government and the small farmers. If we only think of costs, none of these could become scalable.” 

Regarding the opinion that it’s hard for most small businesses to carry out CSR programs because they don’t have the budget for these programs while their revenues remain modest, Do Thai Vuong, vice president of sustainable business and communications at Unilever, said CSR neither depends on the scale of businesses nor their revenues.

“In fact, not all large businesses can practice CSR effectively. CSR must come from the heart and the determination for sustainable development,” he said. According to Vuong, CSR can start right from the operation of businesses, from human resource strategies to manufacturing processes, waste treatment and using renewable energy.

“CSR is not just about doing some charitable work. You should incorporate environmental protection and social factors into all your business activities, into everything that you do. It’s not really a conflict with profit. In fact, CSR helps businesses grow sustainably and maximize shareholders’ value in the longer term,” noted Harini Gopalakrishnan, director and ESG lead of VinaCapital Group.

Mimi Vu, partner at Raise Partners, said, “Companies in Vietnam need a lot of support in not only understanding what CSR is but also the evolution of CSR into environmental, social and governance and other economic development benchmarks. A lot of companies in Vietnam still believe that CSR is simply charity and it is limited in the scope of supporting the community instead of incorporating CSR into their performance.”

According to Vu, also a CSR expert, Vietnam is one of the few countries that has successfully contained the Covid-19 pandemic and has reported positive GDP growth this year. “We have a lot of opportunities coming to the country now and in the foreseeable future. Many businesses in Vietnam have a very slow evolution from charity to CSR. To take advantage of these opportunities, we have to change our mindset right away,” she said.

Vu suggested that businesses in Vietnam make long-term plans for CSR programs, instead of only short and medium term, and work with non-governmental organizations to ensure their CSR activities are effective and have more sustainable impacts.

Launched in 2019, the Saigon Times CSR is an annual event of The Saigon Times to honor enterprises for their significant and meaningful contributions to the community. This year’s program received nearly 100 stories about CSR activities from Vietnamese and foreign-invested firms. Among them, 44 enterprises with meaningful and impressive CSR practices received certificates of recognition from The Saigon Times.

Saigon Times Group’s Editor-in-Chief Tran Minh Hung (R) offers flowers to the panelists at the seminar


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