The idea of corporate social responsibility, which requires companies to conduct business in an ethical manner, has been in the news a lot in recent years. Many firms now talk up their ethical policies as a selling point. But the concept is a relatively new one in the Czech Republic. A conference was held in Prague on Friday on corporate social responsibility to try and redress this balance. Lenka Petakova spoke with one of the speakers at the conference, Vladimir Dobes from the Czech Working Group for Sustainable Consumption and Production, about the advantages that corporate social responsibility brings to companies, and asked how successful the Czech Republic is in this respect.
"I believe that the main advantage is that it reminds people of the roots of any business, and this is mainly the interests of the stakeholders and not only of the shareholders themselves. If the company and its managers are able to track these roots and transform them into concrete goals and actions, they will be ahead of their competitors, because this is what is requested today on markets and also the pressure of globalization makes companies behave in this way."
If you were to compare the Czech Republic to other European countries, how successful, do you think, the Czech Republic is when it comes to implementing the principles of corporate social responsibility?
"The concept of corporate social responsibility is quite new here. I think we should speak about what this means in practice. In practice, many companies have adopted codes of conduct which are in compliance with corporate social responsibility, without even being fully aware of it or making it formal. So, for me it's more important how the businesses behave, what are their goals and how the leadership is set up, rather than if the company formally presents itself as following the principles of this corporate social responsibility..."
Mr Dobes also says that in the future Czech companies will be under increasing pressure as regards the transparency of their activities. In his opinion, it is inevitable that every Czech company in perhaps ten years' time will have to formally adopt the principles of corporate social responsibility. This means that - compared to the situation today - much more attention will be paid to the effects that companies operating in the Czech Republic have on society as regards all economic, social and environmental aspects.
Geoffrey Klempner from the International Society for Philosophers was also at Friday's conference to put forward his own specific view on corporate social responsibility:
"The game is the game. Profit and loss set the ultimate parameters. But within those parameters there are many choices of variations of play. You have a life both inside and outside the business arena. It is ultimately your choice whether your experience within this business arena will be personally rewarding and meaningful, or not. Your choice to promote CSR is the choice of your personal values."