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10 THINGS: WHAT CSR IS NOT! - Sustainable Conversations
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  1. Corporate Philanthropy

Corporate philanthropy is often a component of a corporation’s broader social responsibility and includes cash gifts, product donations and employee volunteerism. So in fact, Corporate Philanthropy is one component of CSR.

  • Disaster Response

Most corporate disaster responses have been reactionary rather than pro-action. The question is: Does the organization in question have this as part of their CSR Strategy and Policy? Being proactive on disaster response, or better stated, disaster risk reduction (DRR) is an option.  DRR as an embedded component of a company’s CSR strategy is not all that mature in most organizations because of the norm to continue to react to events as one-off occurrences.  A company which recognizes its role as a global citizen, oftentimes also a participant in regional economies, can find ways to insert itself into the disaster risk reduction, preparedness conversation. One-off financial donations and giving of relief materials is not CSR.

  • Crisis Management

Crisis Management on its own is not CSR but rather a component of CSR. Quite a number of organizations do not have a crisis management procedure or plan in place and therefore more often than not, respond to a corporate crisis with all sorts of public relations gymnastics. If a brand suddenly becomes more aggressive in ‘giving back’ after a ban on its products or regulatory sanction, then its consumers ought to be on red alert. Crisis management is a critical organizational function.  Failure can result in serious harm to stakeholders, losses for an organization, or end its very existence.  Public relations practitioners are an integral part of crisis management teams.

  • Seasonal charity/donations

In Nigeria, Decembers could be renamed the CSR month with a national endorsement. From large corporations to budding enterprises, Christmas, Easter and some other holidays are great ways to reach out to the less privileged in our society. This would be considerable if the value of the media campaign employed to promote these seasonal gifts do not outweigh the value of the gifts.

  • PR

Public Relations and Corporate Social Responsibility are two different ideologies, practices and disciplines. Examples abound in Nigeria where an organization engages the services of a PR/Communications firm to roll out its “CSR plan”.  We wonder how long this will last.

CSR is not a marketing campaign but rather a long-term mission and program that is in sync with the brand value. Companies, who do not understand that CSR is about business sustainability and integrity as much as it is about social programs, often make the mistake of making CSR a marketing or PR program. When done properly and with a company that embraces the strategic and integrated nature of CSR, PR is a vehicle of sharing with the world the progress they are making, or what the world may not know about them.

Editor’s Note: This completes the list of our ‘10 THINGS that CSR is NOT’ series. The column will continue to be published with more information next week.



On February 8, 2012; Human Rights Watch released the report, ‘Nigeria: Child Lead Poisoning Crisis’. Four hundred children are reported to have died from Lead poisoning in Zamfara state in northern Nigeria. Thousands more are said to still be in need of medical treatment due to exposure to Lead, in what has been termed the “worst in modern history”. The discovery of Gold deposits in the state has led to a massive rush to mine the precious metal using rudimentary methods. Children employed in these mines as workers for digging and processing of the ore, have been exposed to poisonous Lead. Others have been exposed to it through contact with people working in the mines.

Response so far…

The outbreak of Lead poisoning in the state is reported to have first been noticed around March 2010. Since then, the Zamfara State Ministry of Health, W.H.O, the U.S Center for Disease Control, Medecins Sans Frontiers, Blacksmiths institute, Terragraphics Environmental Engineering Inc, UNDP, UNICEF and other bodies have combined efforts to intervene in more than ten villages. With funding of US$ 1.9 million provided by the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) to WHO and UNICEF, social mobilization and community awareness, establishment of a surveillance system for the early detection of lead poisoning, training of experts, provision of equipment, provision of antidotal agents for the treatment of lead poisoning and other activities have been carried out as well as remediation of five villages to contain the epidemic. However, despite these efforts, Malam Nasir Umar, the Deputy Co-ordinator of the Zamfara State Rapid Response Team on Lead Poisoning recently stated that at least 3,000 of over 4,500 children who tested positive to lead poison contamination require urgent medical attention.

Effects of Lead

Exposure to Lead can cause damage to the peripheral nervous system, affecting memory, vision, muscle co-ordination, and causing weakness in fingers, wrists and ankles, liver, kidney and stomach damage and in severe cases, death. Exposure is more dangerous in children because of physiological differences. Children absorb lead at a much higher rate than adults. It is estimated that 15 to 18 Million children in developing countries have suffered from Lead poisoning, resulting in lowered intelligence, learning disabilities, hearing loss, reduced attention span and behavioural abnormalities.

The way forward?

Illegal employment of children to work in mine fields must be discontinued immediately. The Child Rights Act defines a child as one who is below the age of 18 years. It categorically provides that such a child’s best interest shall remain paramount in all considerations. The Nigerian Labour Act also attempts to limit child labour. It states that children under the age of 15 cannot work commerce and industry jobs. Instead, children can only perform home-based agricultural or domestic work. The law also states that children under the age of 12 cannot be required to lift heavy items. Despite legislation against child labour, an estimated 15 million children under the age of 14 are working in Nigeria.


Twenty-two (22) Nigerian banks signed on to the Sustainable Banking Principles of the United Nations Environment Program’s Financial Industry Principles (UNEP FI) on September 9, 2011. However, no less than 2500 employees of some of the rescued banks (which have now been taken over by other local banks) were recently fired. Does this align with the Sustainable Banking Principles? Are employees not internal stakeholders in these organisations and would this be described as a socially responsible way of doing business?

Editor’s Note: Please send us your thoughts and comments on this: csrfiles@thistlepraxisconsulting.com


Dr. Ken Amaeshi differentiates between Sustainability Strategy & Sustainable Strategy…

Bob Eccles of Harvard and his colleague recently made a distinction between “sustainability strategy”, and “sustainable strategy”. According to them, sustainability strategy is one that incorporates environmental, social and governance concerns in strategic business decisions, while “sustainable strategy” is one that can stand the “test of time”. See: http://www.exed.hbs.edu/assets/Documents/innovating-for-sustainability-serafeim-eccles.pdf

In my view, their take on “sustainability strategy” seems like what most people would describe as “responsible business” practice. Is responsible business ALWAYS “sustainable” – i.e. standing the test of time? No, it will depend on the “context” and “time”. A “sustainable strategy” comes across to me as one that is always capable of “adapting” to the situation at hand. In this case, I see “sustainable strategy” as “adaptable strategy”, which may not necessarily be “responsible” in outlook. In sustainable strategy, “responsibility” is used if deemed essential in the adaptation process. Whilst “sustainable strategy” might sound expedient and pragmatic, it is the challenge of CSR professionals to identify strategies that would enable responsible businesses to ALWAYS remain sustainable in the long term. That has been the Achilles heel of the CSR movement!

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