NIS: ISO 26000: Standardising corporate social responsibility practices

In an attempt to standardise CSR and sustainability practice in Nigeria, the Standards Organisation of Nigeria, SON in collaboration with other stakeholders, recently issued a standard guide for social responsibility practices. Tagged: NIS: ISO 26000, the new local ISO standards will serve as a tool to help businesses in Nigeria streamline CRS initiatives along globally-acceptable standards. ADEDEJI ADEMIGBUJI reports.

After one year of intensive consultations among representatives of corporate organisations, government ministries, parastatals and agencies, the Standard Organisation of Nigeria, SON and stakeholders across the public-private sector divide have reached a common ground on the standardisation of CRS practices by corporate organisations.

The new standard came after series of the adoption process sponsored by Etisalat Nigeria, Nigeria Breweries Plc, First Bank of Nigeria Plc, and Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), SON to ensure that the launch of the much awaited NIS: ISO 26000, which was domesticated from International Standards Organisation, ISO 26000. The new standards would, nevertheless, declassify philanthropic activities of many corporate organisations and charity as CSR so far they are not in line with NIS: ISO 26000 benchmark.

Facilitated by SON in partnership with ThistlePraxis Consulting, NIS: ISO 26000 provides organizations with a holistic guide to producing sustainability reports in line with global best practices, hence, making it mandatory for all corporate organisations to use in their sustainability reporting as the basis for providing better CSR for host communities.

With this development, Nigeria has joined other African countries such as Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Egypt, Kenya, Mauritius, Morocco, South Africa, Senegal, Malawi, Uganda, Zimbabwe and Ghana who have adopted the standard and in effect, the ISO26000: NAP Secretariat will be open for the next 12 months to any Nigerian company interested in using the standard which was a result of the adoption process facilitated by Lead Expert, Martin Neureiter, CEO, The CSR Company, Austria.

The NIS: ISO 26000 is expected to serve as a consensus guidance document that provides support or reference for all kinds of organisations in both private and public sectors on how they can operate in a socially responsible, ethical and transparent manner and by also contributing to the health and welfare of society as against the current practice where communities suffer effects of environmental pollution, abject poverty whereas many of the companies declare huge profits without giving back to the society.

During the official launching of the new CSR standards last week in Lagos, the Director General of SON, Dr. Joseph Odumodu explained that the new NIS standard is a framework for Nigeria to implement and apply daily origination procedures and practices.

According to him, “The new standard will ensure that businesses have standards that one can look up to in terms of engaging the people that operate in their environment and also monitor impact assessment.

“The standard is about how you do your business, and not about how much money you give; it is about top management’s commitment on how business operations are done in a way that prevents negative impact on the environment; it is about aligning business strategies in conformity with the ISO standards.”

Odumodu said further that ISO 26000 Guidance Standard is being promoted by ISO and to be enforced in Nigeria through SON as a means of introducing standards that would ensure global best practices and ensure competitive advantage of exports.

According to him, “It has become more imperative as more and more organisations decide that they must address the principle of social responsibility. The aim of ISO 26000 therefore, as a guidance standard is to show the path to be followed by providing the core subjects. This will enable an organisation willing to follow the standard seek to achieve social responsibility from its own internal mobilisation. In Nigeria, where challenges regarding social justice, respect for the environment and economic development are still immense, the import of the application of this standard can never be overstretched,” adding that the SO 26000’ would be useful as a more objective reference of what was expected from companies and organisations regarding their social responsibility performance.

The Lead Consultant/Chief Executive Officer, ThistlePraxis Consulting Ltd , who spear-headed the adoption of ISO 26000 in Nigeria working with SON, Mrs. Ini Onuk, told National Mirror that over the years most companies were engaging in charity and philanthropy as against CSR, which they often put in their reporting as against global standards.

“I have not complained but simply advocated that sponsorships, cause marketing and philanthropy be clearly identified and not presented as CSR. We also advocate that business leaders pay more attention to these issues and make sustainability a priority. What we encourage is that more activities and initiatives are impact-driven and that CSR is integrated into corporate strategy in order to yield multiple returns on investment.”

She noted that in the cause of engaging on social responsibility projects, most companies are not honest hence the need for the standards.

“Most companies are not sincere to be honest; nevertheless we have observed that insincerity is most of the time not deliberate. In a society where mediocrity is the benchmark and there are no regulations or minimum standards to adhere to, the push to constantly improve strategy is uncommon. Hence, tokenism is masqueraded as CSR for host communities and this continues until there is a crisis or loss of social license to operate. It is imperative for companies to adopt these standards which could help them measure the impact of their investment,” she said.

While the Federal Government has not been able to ensure that some Foreign Direct Investors comply with CSR practice, Onuk said measures are also in place to ensure they have human face and adhere to CSR and Sustainability policies when coming to operate in Nigeria. She said the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment is also involved in helping SON drive the new NIS: IS0 26000 standards on the FDI’s.

According to her, this will ensure that the investments have tangible social impact devoid of periodic “green washing or philanthropic tokenism often masqueraded as CSR. In the light of these, she said the FDI should be able to impact on the society through investment in the host communities. “Even many public offices and officials do not understand that it is not enough to clamour for Foreign Direct Investment. The big question should be ‘FDI at what cost?’ Local content is not about employing brown collar staff or allotting menial jobs to host communities.

The quest for Sustainable Development will not be attained by FDIs only. The local economies must prepare to maximize these investments – through a productive and skill-aligned workforce, support business eco-systems and tested MSMEs to provide needed services and ensure a workable supply chain amongst others.”

Onuk said her organisation in preparation through partnership with The CSR Company International is bringing an ISO 26000 Toolkit, a groundbreaking software for the implementation of ISO 26000 and a CSR Label, a social responsibility product label and audit service in Africa. She advised that organisations should not only talk about social responsibility, but integrate it into business strategies and operations.

Meanwhile, the Honourable Minister for Industry, Trade & Investment, Dr. Olusegun Aganga, who was represented by the CEO, Financial Reporting Council of Nigeria, Mr. Jim Obazee, instructed SON to liaise with all relevant agencies of Government to create the necessary awareness and ensure widespread application of the international standard on social responsibility, NIS: ISO 26000.

Describing the new standards as milestones in Nigeria, Aganga also directed SON to ensure that copies of the Standard are made readily available to the broad spectrum of stakeholders for implementation as required. While stakeholders have continually declassify most activities and projects by corporate organisation as CSR, Nigeria CSR Report states that the volume of news stories reported as CSR in the year 2012 was impressively much more than 2011.

“Whilst this should signify progress, a significant percentage of the stories cannot be classified as CSR. Many sponsorship initiatives, Cause Marketing Campaigns, philanthropic activities amongst others were still reported as CSR across various print and digital media platforms.”

The report stated that “desperate linkage to CSR has greatly increased to alarming rates and this is reflected in the promotion of many activities as CSR as well as the reportage of same without classification by media professionals.

This trend is inimical to the growth of the practice and concept and further confuses stakeholders on the real essence and value of CSR.” While stakeholders now yearn for standards, multinational companies are beginning to complain about the challenges of sustainability in emerging markets. During a one-day forum of 30 CEOs recently, the Chief Executive Officer, Etisalat Nigeria, Mr. Steven Evans said businesses were often associated with a single-minded focus on profits, returns and self-interest.

“They are sometimes seen to sacrifice the needs of their stakeholders, on the altar of profit-making. However there is an increasing requirement for accountability in today’s world. Individuals, and now governments and corporations are accountable for their actions or lack of action.

Organisations are ultimately responsible for their decisions regarding investments, processes, values, business practices and their interactions; and global pressures now promote more enduring business practices, which take into account what are now settled as key factors such as the social and environmental contributions of a company, in addition to its economic performance”, he said.

Evans stated further, “Sustainability for corporate organizations represents the giving of equal consideration to economic, environmental and social aspects in our dealings. One way we can contribute to sustainable development is through CSR, especially when there is a deliberately planned strategy driven from the top of the organization”.

In the gathering, the forum which had in attendance the CEO of Nigerian Breweries, Mr. Nicolaas Vervelde; CEO of Promisador Nigeria, Mr. Keith Richards; Managing Director of Julius Berger, Mr. Wolfgang Goetsch, and CEO of Sahara Energy Nigeria, Mr. Tonye Cole, among others identified corporate leadership, energy/ resource costs viz a viz funds available for operations, irregular sustainability reporting, selfish exclusivity by companies hoarding projects and then neglecting them not too long after implementation, sustainable government policies and overwhelming environmental concerns as bane of CSR in Nigeria.

The forum, however, stated that to put an end to the challenges of implementing CSR in Nigeria, more companies should embrace sound corporate governance practices, carry out their business responsibly, align their corporate strategy with social responsibility- infused programmes, contribute to sustainable development by including CSR in their annual budgets, and enter into partnerships with relevant MDAs and NGOs, who should also in turn up-skill to ensure that they are able to enter such partnerships with corporate organizations.

While the plight of the companies remains a potent danger, the CEO of Tru- Contact and organiser of the annual CSR award, Mr. Ken Egbas, believes the standard is still high considering that the concept is still new in Nigeria. “The standards are high enough for the stage that the average number of companies in Nigeria. Don’t forget that most of them have just begun the CSR and sustainability journeys. In some cases we have monitored through the submissions made to the Nigeria CSR Awards which we independently verify, the progress made has been heartwarming.”

He, however, said currently, most of the companies are beginning to up their CSR budgets “and I think this has also seen to the increased budget dedicated to CSR.”

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