Social responsibility becomes top corporate agenda


By Kim Tae-gyu

As far as corporate social responsibility (CSR) is concerned, Korean firms lag far behind global leaders but they are expected to catch up once the momentum gets going.

The ongoing Global CSR Conference 2011 is a chance for domestic firms to join the international top rank, according to Homeplus Group Chairman Lee Seung-han.

The Global Compact Korea Network, the Seoul bureau of the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC) led by Lee, hosted the three-day event that attracted 600 entrepreneurs, politicians, activists and bureaucrats from 15 countries.

“Currently, less than 200 local entities are participating in the Korea Network, which works on such issues as the environment, transparency, labor and human rights,” Lee said in an interview with The Korea Times on the sidelines of the conference that continues through today.

“We aim to increase the number by more than 10-fold to around 2,000 by 2020 for grassroots networks involving big and small firms on top of non-government organizations. Toward that end, the CSR conference will play a pivotal role in encouraging our firms to take part in the initiative.”

The 64-year-old who has headed the country’s top retail chain Homeplus since 1999 said that CSR is a must for companies, which strive to build and improve their brand images and reputation.

“In the past, corporations were allowed to do their utmost to just make as much money as possible while paying little attention to their social responsibility,” Lee said. “However, the atmosphere has changed. In order to survive and thrive, brisk and wholehearted CSR activities are not an option but a must.”

Asked about specific action plans, Lee likened good corporate citizens to the main character of Richard Scarry’s children’s book, the “Polite Elephant,” “who always offers his seat to a lady.”

“Companies can come up with specific CSR strategies customized to the needs of their clients. For example, our focus is the family and particularly children because a host of kids visit our stores with their parents every day,” Lee said.

He raised another fable-like story to stress the significance of cooperation and CSR during the opening remarks of the conference held at the Shilla Hotel in downtown Seoul.

“Let me share a story about a little boy who had a big stone in front of him. It was seemingly impossible for him to lift the stone. But he did lift the stone in the end. What do you think his solution was?” he asked.

“He simply asked his friends to help him and they lifted the stone together. When we come together to lift the big stone of social responsibility; What happens next? Dreams come true when we dream together and we believe in it”

In the future, Lee claimed that CSR should evolve into merely SR, or social responsibility, in the sense that the activities should be carried out not only by private companies but also by public-sector organizations and entities.


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