Al-Ahram Weekly Online   24 February - 2 March 2011
Issue No. 1036
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Businessmen at the stake

National cohesion requires greater corporate social responsibility, asserts Osama El-Meligui*

While Egypt is undergoing a drastic political change spearheaded by the young Egyptian demonstrators, whose slogan is "Change, Freedom and Social Justice", Egypt's radical changes are not only in its political arena, but what's more in its economic and social agenda. This is an important turning point in Egypt's history that will shape its future on different levels.

Amid the unrest, some Egyptian businessmen, especially ministers, have been under attack for being unable to provide protection, justice and fair treatment to society because of their unethical business practices.

It is high time for our business community to consider corporate social responsibility as an obligation for doing business. United Nations Global Compact and ISO 26000 agreed upon a set of principles for corporate social responsibility (CSR).

CSR categories include: economical, cultural, political and civil rights; community involvement and development; labour practices; consumer rights; fair operating practices; protecting the environment; and combating corruption.

United Nations Global Compact and ISO 26000 work on the issues an organisation needs to address in order to operate in a socially responsible manner, and what is best practice in implementing CSR and assisting organisations to move from good intentions to good actions.

A big challenge ahead of our business community is to integrate these principles into their practices in the near future. The implementation of these principles is intended to encourage corporations to go beyond legal compliance, and recognise that compliance with the law is a fundamental duty of any organisation and an essential part of their social responsibility. It is not acceptable that companies violate tax laws, social insurance laws, labour laws and advertise their charitable activities to escape their legal and societal duties.

As we also observed, there is a need for the public to have proof of the transparency of the system, through eliminating business malpractices in order to boost citizens' confidence.

According to the United Nations directives and ISO standards, all stake holders (management, owners, workers and consumers) must participate in the decision making and monitoring process, and the policies must be practiced in a transparent way that adheres to the legal, economic, social, moral, and cultural limits that any business should operate in, and avoid exploitation through unfair trade practices. Integrating implementing and prompting socially responsible behaviour in companies and their policies in the future is now a national priority.

Unless the private sector works very closely with the government during the coming period to secure jobs for the vast number of Egyptian youths who are jobless in the streets, the next explosion will be the millions of jobless people in the streets. Needless to say, a fair minimum wage policy must by adopted by all companies whether private or public that ensures an acceptable standard of living of the workers.

The role of the businessmen is more than just to make profit. There are expectations from society towards them, and businessmen must responded to these expectations. Businessmen have to accept certain social responsibilities to safeguard consumer rights, improve social standards and ensure the welfare of society.

The rule is "good ethics is good business." It goes without saying that there are always a few rotten apples in every barrel, but that does not mean that the rest of the fruit isn't sound. Mistakes are part of the dues one pays for a full life. God bless our Egypt.

* The writer is an international ISO Expert and head of the Arabic Task Force for Social Responsibility (ISO/WGSR/ATTF).

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