CSR in the United Kingdom

CSR in the United Kingdom

In this article we will embark on a journey through Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) across the globe, starting by examining the country at the root of modern industry: the United Kingdom.

We know that CSR was born in the British Isles around the time of the industrial revolution in the second half of the 1800s, even if the term CSR itself was not coined until many decades later. In the United Kingdom, as early as the nineteenth century, some enlightened entrepreneurs had already recognised how important it was to give their employees decent living conditions. So it was that low-cost housing was built close to some factories for workers, designed to create a truly autonomous community with its own services. The focus on employees was such that at the beginning of the 1900s some business owners even started to create pension funds for their workers. Such initiatives, taken for granted today, were considered revolutionary at the time.

This approach, in some ways the precursor to modern CSR, has made the UK one of the most advanced countries in terms of corporate responsibility. Various initiatives were born in the UK with the aim of disseminating and developing activities that connected business development with social and environmental issues. To name but a few examples:

  • BitC (Business in the Community), a network of over 700 companies, which, since 1982, has been working on a programme for business development based on five founding principles: inspiration, integrity, integration, innovation and impact, in which a social focus is promoted as intrinsic to good business;
  • The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA), born in 1990 and one of the UK’s largest networks of accountants, which has developed initiatives aimed at promoting transparent, complete and credible company reporting, capable of accurately reporting financial, social and environmental performance;
  • In 2001, a series of indicators called the FTSE4Good Index was established on the London Stock Exchange, following the model set by the Dow Jones Sustainability Index. These indicators can be used by investors to assess a listed company’s degree of sustainability. Initially adopted only by big companies, today a large number of medium-sized listed companies take part in these indices.

In terms of promoting social responsibility in the world of work, the UK Government has played a fundamental role in the last 40 years. Since before the Thatcher era (1979-1991), the British Government and Parliament have worked to promote social responsibility both in companies and in the charity sector. Some measures precede European regulations, since made mandatory by the various states. Amongst these are the Equal Pay Act 1970, the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and the Race Relations Act 1976.

Under Blair’s Government (1997-2007), the world’s first Minister for CSR, Kim Howells, was appointed in March 2000.

Since then, government institutions have been at the forefront of disseminating CSR principles and implementing the adoption by all organisations of ever more transparent and comprehensive annual reporting to highlight social and environmental initiatives. According to a recent study by KPMG, this has led to an almost 95% spread of reporting among large companies. At the same time, the central Administration has urged local Councils to encourage and promote CSR culture, rooting it yet deeper in the country’s infrastructure.

The government’s efforts, along with the fostering of a company culture aimed at caring for and involving its own stakeholders, have led to the United Kingdom being considered one of the global leaders in adopting CSR principles. This is also apparent in specific training courses: there are currently 15 post-graduate Masters Courses dedicated to CSR at the most prestigious British universities.

Since big corporations have internalised stakeholder responsibility in their policies – virtually all big British companies have a board member dedicated to CSR – the challenge for the coming years is to involve and transfer these ventures into small and medium-sized enterprises.

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