Do Corporations have a Social Responsibility in Myanmar?
Jay P.Supetran
September , 2016

I nternational businesses have flooded Myanmar’s market since the recent government transition. That trend is expected to continue as Myanmar relaxes more laws to make it easier for foreigners to invest and open branches within the country. With this new venture now available to them, many foreign companies are wondering how they can encourage business friendly relations with the government and local people. A lot of companies have found the answer in implementing corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategies into their business plans. CSR is a business concept where the company integrates the needs of the local society and environmental concerns into their operations. This is seen as a way to encourage economic growth and ensure that more people benefit from opportunities the new business provides.

Concepts related to corporate social responsibility (CSR)

The most common stereotype of a corporation is a fast money-making machine that maximizes profits at the expense of the people working within it, its clients and the environment. Since most corporations operate behind a wall — that is — they do not allow the public to see the more personal behind-thescenes work that takes place within the business, it has been hard for many companies to counteract that stereotype. However, CSR strategies help break down that wall between corporations and the public and allows the public to see the human side to big business. ‘Doing no harm’ is a concept that initially describe the concept of corporate social responsibility (CSR). Corporations ensure that their services and the production process of their commodities are not harmful to the clients and the environment. Now, however, the concept of ‘doing no harm’ is considered insufficient if other aspects of the business are not aligned with responsible business practices. The products may not be harmful, but the corporation may be paying below minimum wage to its workers or it is not honest with its tax payments or its pricing scheme is not fair. In this context the principle of ‘doing right’ is added as a core concept in CSR. Responsible corporations are expected to be transparent, and not only legally, but also morally upright.

There is no standard definition of CSR, and generally it can be considered as constituting the efforts of the corporation to initiate or support activities that results to positive impact on the environment and the community. Activities may include improving labor conditions, environmental efforts, gender empowerment, philanthropy, and other social development activities.

Advantages of CSR activities Consumer awareness is a reality today. People pay for commodities not only for the quality but also for what it stands for. It is unfashionable to wear garments from sweatshops with workers paid below minimum wage. It is not socially cool to eat chocolate from cacao farms using child labor. Consumers patronize companies that are honest, transparent and doing good. It enhances the image of the corporations and boost brand loyalty.

CSR activities in communities foster beneficial relationship with the community and the company. Itcreates a venue where both can share expectations and express grievances and a mechanism where conflicts are discussed and managed.

Internal to the corporation, it establishes a work-life balance mechanism for employees who want to participate in meaningful endeavors outside the workplace. It encourages employees to volunteer and make their contribution satisfying the need to ‘feel good’. Staff loyalty is cultivated because people want to be identified with a responsible corporate citizen.

The company CSR can also harness support from people outside the corporation. It can mobilize people looking for activities to channel their interests and energies. Millennials have been reported as willing to take lower paychecks for jobs that satisfy their desire to contribute to the social good.

CSR in ASEAN countries

One of the most successful examples is the Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP). It is an organization formed in 1970 by 50 business leaders, contributing 1% of their net income before tax in a pool of funds that finance poverty reduction activities. Today, it has 267 member-companies continuing to contribute to the fight against poverty in the Philippines. It is also in the forefront of the campaign to promote CSR in the Philippines. It was effective in advocating for companies to share and help in social development programs.

Thailand companies formed the Thai CSR Network of companies doing various social development activities. Being predominantly Buddhists, CSR for companies in Thailand is considered part of merit-making activities, mobilizing people to participate and generating resources to support social development activities. In Singapore, the Singapore Compact for CSR was formally launched in 2005 which was later renamed Global Compact Network. The group has more than 500 members today promoting CSR not only in Singapore but the ASEAN region as well.

Promoting CSR in Myanmar

The call to action for local Myanmar companies to develop their own CSR programs has been raised. This requires support from the government by enabling an environment for CSR development which includes tax incentives, transparency standards, and poverty programs allows private participation, etc.

Leading business leaders should also spearhead the promotion of CSR in their respective companies. Modeling their companies as CSR practitioners will provide emerging local companies with examples to emulate. A core of business advocates like the Myanmar Business Coalition on Aid (MBCA) will help pass on the idea of responsible corporate citizenship. Some companies with bad records try to refurbish their images by doing philanthropy thinking it will do them a makeover. CSR is more than just public relations stunt, and consumers can see through the veil. It should be an integral component intertwined with the overall business strategy of the corporation.

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