Scandinavian work on CSR is reduced to how well you present your sustainability report

Ones the Scandinavian countries were among the very best performers with field of creating initiatives for how business and society could work together for a greater good. But now it is more about how you present your activities than it is about what the company is actually doing that matters.

I would love if I could say I live in a region were we have some of the best socially conscious companies in the world, but if I did so I would properly be lying to myself. What I see is that it’s all about presentation and squeezing all the advertising and PR blood out of every bit of activity that even have the smallest scent of social impact.

A few examples can be found in the partnership between IBIS (A NGO) and Toms (A chocolate producer). They have found each other over the child-labour issue and have partnered up to create programs that will educate farmers and their children in Africa. This is all well and I it is very well that a company tries to do something about the very problems it self is causing. But the issue I have is that it has become a marketing machine, which tries to inflate a relative small project (about 15000 people is effected by the program) into a commutative platform, which almost seems to proclaim that they are eradicating child-labour in Ghana all together.

Another example can be found around the leading company in Denmark Novo Nordisk (A medico company producing insulin) that have been leading within transparency and stakeholder engagement. But now seems to be preoccupied with their own reporting and creating so-called ‘shared value’ rather than engaging in activities that really integrate social and environmental concerns in the business operations. There is no doubt that Novo Nordisk have fantastic reporting and does a lot to promote a sustainable agenda, but in my mind they have taken the ‘eye of the ball’ and forgot what really matters is what you do not what you say about it.

Actually was the former chair of Novo Nordisk quite critical of the current CSR climate when he said that “Danish companies are not global leader in corporate responsibility. If we look at the various indices, which rates companies according to their efforts on CSR issues – such as the Dow Jones Sustainability or Sustainable Asset Management (SAM) – so there is no index, where Denmark was leading. There are four, five Danish companies, which occasionally are high, but it does not justify to-call ourselves leaders. Denmark is an average performer, despite the fact that our self-understanding in this area is very high.”

While the indexes should not be seen as a measurement in it self I think he is quite right when he points to the Danish self-understanding as being ethical and socially conscious.

So when Ingrid Schullström CSR manger for H&M in Sweden claims that “I think we are traditionally very Scandinavian in being fairly modest that we’d rather do things first and talk about it later”.

She says that while H&M has been active in this area for as long as 12 years, she feels customers do not “know enough about what we actually are and have been doing”, and identifies the communication of its CSR activities as “an area where we should maybe improve” she is actually kicking in a open door. CSR activities in Scandinavia have become a Communicative exercise rather than an activity that companies and organisations engage in for reasons of ethics and morals.

When I from time to time meet business leaders and professionals, and talk about there company they often refer to themselves as the ‘good girl in the class’. Implying that there specific company is better than the average and that they have a clean record on social, governance and environmental issues. But when I ask how they know this it is often because they have not bothered to ask some very straight forward questions about their own performance and not least the impact of their operations. When I for example ask about corruption they often refer to the Scandinavian way of thinking as being free from the idea of corruption. The just by being from this part of the world make the company somehow free from dishonesty, fraud and bribery like some kind of force field. Even when confronted with overwhelming evidence to the contrary we seem unable to change this worldview. In relation with the food-for-oil program scandal in Iraq they’re where several Scandinavian companies involved including Novo Nordisk who was heavily fined we do not change our self-perception.

They will rather boost their communication with half-truths and semi-investigated activities than really actively engage in social responsible activities. And when we invite for seminars, talking about The Scandinavian CSR model, we pat each other on the shoulder about how good we are and how stupid everyone else is acting when they do see us as the center of the universe.

So lets challenge our-self and the image we have created and start dealing with the real issues that we have in front of us and not dwell in what we ones were really good at, creating real sustained social change.

Are the biggest necessarily the best?

Flags of the Nordic countries - from left: Fin...

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I have done a small survey of the top ten employers in Scandinavia (Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland) to look for evidence that these companies are also engaging in CSR activities. My question was if the nordic companies subscribe to the UN Global Compact and if so what CSR system do they use for reporting?

 

Company

Country

Number Employees

Member of Global Compact

Using a normative reporting tool like GRI, ISO26000, Etc.

Comments

1.

ISS Holding A/S

Denmark

482.531

Yes

None

Cleaning and Facilities services

 

2.

 

Sweden

236.713

No

None

Security

Securitas AB

3.

Nokia OY

Finland

123.171

Yes

GRI

Telecommunication

4.

A.P. Møller – Mærsk A/S

Denmark

115.386

Yes

GRI

Transportation and Retail

5.

Volvo, AB

Denmark

94.250

Yes

GRI

Automobile

6.

Ericsson

Sweden

91.825

Yes

GRI

Telecommunication

7.

H & M Hennes & Mauritz AB

Sweden

59.440

Yes

GRI

Textile retail

8.

Helse Sør Øst RHF

Norway

54.979

No

None

Governmental Health institution

9.

Skanska AB

Sweden

51.645

Yes

None

Building and Construction

10.

Electrolux, AB

Sweden

51.544

Yes

GRI

Electronics

 

It does seem like that the big companies have a tendency to use Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) as their preferred reporting platform. The ISO26000 haven’t found its way into the large corporations at this point but it’s still early days for the standard and I would not expect anything solid until next year.

Another interesting finding is that companies that have products that are relative close to the consumers like clothing, mobile phones or cars are more likely to have implemented a normative reporting system. On the other hand are companies and organisations like ISS and Securitas that does provide a service but who are not perceived as being close to the end consumer not as likely to have adopted a system which would is perceived as communicating transparency.