In the region’s most prosperous nation, notions of ethical business are taking hold

Economic indicators for the Czech Republic are all positive. Gross Domestic Product, national income per capita, trade volumes and foreign direct investment are all increasing year on year. The US Central Intelligence Agency says the country is one of the most stable and prosperous of the post-Communist states of central and eastern Europe.

With unemployment below 7 per cent and GDP growth at nearly 6 per cent, responsible business interest might be expected to be greatest in the country out of all the CEE nations surveyed by Ethical Corporation. Once again, as throughout the region, it is the local divisions of large foreign companies that are pushing ideas of corporate responsibility.

One concern that corporate social responsibility watchers in the country have is transparency. Czech ethics campaigners, more aggressive than those in other CEE nations, highlight that information on corporate social responsibility is only being made available on company websites in English. Several large international brands, including Toyota, Philips and Hyundai have been accused by activist groups, such as the Global Alliance for Responsibility, Democracy and Equity (Garde), of double standards – behaving differently at home and abroad.

Knowledge networks

Six years ago, the Czech Business Leaders Forum, which campaigns for more responsible business in the country, joined the EU’s wider network, CSR Europe. The result was eventually a series of conferences and workshops designed to raise awareness. The BLF has attempted to bring together non-governmental organisations, small businesses and government agencies to increase interest in corporate responsibility.

Activities also include manager-shadowing programmes; annual health, safety and environment awards; and a tool to measure corporate responsibility work, developed by the Czech Donors Forum, a philanthropy network, back in 2005 – which is now used by 14 companies.

Reporting by companies in the country is also growing, with Czech Coal generally regarded as the domestic leader on CSR in the country.

But, as elsewhere, including many parts of the UK, responsible business is still largely equated with charity in the Czech Republic.

Greenwash too, is on the rise. Philanthropy is very popular in the Czech Republic. “Large corporations ostentatiously donate more and more money, but they do not change their corporate policy,” says Pavel Franc of Garde, which files regular legal complaints against both foreign and Czech companies on environmental and human rights issues.

Community work is also increasingly popular with companies in the Czech Republic. A project called “Orange Day” by GlaxoSmithKline encourages corporate volunteering, with one third of Czech-based employees involved.

Mobile network operators Telefonica, T-Mobile and Vodafone promote corporate responsibility largely through their foundations and a Donors Message Service, whereby customers donate to charity by text. Meanwhile, the building company Skanska is focusing on partnerships with environmental NGOs to encourage forest conservation. Ceska Sporitelna, also known as Erste Bank, has a complex strategy of corporate involvement, supporting areas that are not popular among other companies, such as drug abuse prevention campaigns and the rehabilitation of drug addicts.

As in other European nations, awareness of responsible business is limited in small and medium-sized Czech firms. Strategic responsible business initiatives are few and far between. However, the country’s size, stability and economic progress may mean that civil society voices and governmental pressure to raise business ethics move faster than in some neighbouring states.

Slovakia behind

Responsible business understanding and action in neighbouring Slovakia are similar to that of the Czech Republic, but not generally as well promoted. Corporate charitable donations are lower. The local branch of Business Leaders Forum was founded in 2004, and its most active members include Dell, Philip Morris, Orange, Citibank, T-Mobile, and VUB, a banking unit of the Intesa Sanpaolo group.

Volunteering is an area where business activity has taken off in recent years. School and education projects are also popular with companies.

As in other central and eastern European nations, business interest appears to be growing in how corporate responsibility is managed in large companies.

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