Iwona Kuraszko considers the state of corporate ethics in Poland

Corporate social responsibility is a relatively new concept in Poland. Research shows that public expectations of the business sector in Poland are mostly related to employment conditions. Partly as a result, there is a growing awareness among managers in larger Polish firms that fair treatment of employees improves worker motivation and efficiency.

The country faces the cultural problem of a lack of trust, which contributes to a low level of social capital. According to the Edelman Trust Barometer 2008, only about 12 per cent of Poles trust each other, and only 11 per cent trust their government to do what is right. The Polish “elites” have less trust in their government than those in any other country surveyed. On the other hand, 45 per cent of Poles trust businesses, 38 per cent trust non-governmental organisations and 37 per cent trust the Polish media.

It is becoming obvious that business ethics have an important role to play in modern Poland. Multinationals that are the global leaders in corporate responsibility can help provide Polish companies with some insights. Domestic companies in Poland often do not perceive themselves as being able to play a role in improving social conditions. Generally, Polish companies look to improve relations with stakeholders by sponsoring local community initiatives. Many are simply not aware that corporate responsibility represents an opportunity to improve trust, management standards and reputation as well as being simply good business risk-management.

Multinational know-how

Research has shown that 80 per cent of Polish managers believe corporate social responsibility is an important tool of building a positive corporate image and reputation. More than half still consider corporate responsibility as “supporting people in need”, an attitude much more linked to philanthropic activities than modern notions of responsible business.

According to research by the Responsible Business Forum in Poland, within companies in Poland that engage in what they call corporate social responsibility, more than four-fifths of managers who initiate social responsibility projects are based in public relations departments. They usually report to their heads of communications. Meanwhile, 35 per cent of public relations agencies devise and implement corporate responsibility strategies for their clients. These are mostly western companies.

Unfortunately, Polish subsidiaries of multinationals often do not put in place the corporate responsibility policies developed by their western head offices. The cause is probably the lack of public pressure and lower expectations of business, combined with a lack of allocated financial and management resources.

Multinational and domestic companies in Poland generally do not use tools and procedures for managing corporate responsibility strategy. For example there are only three firms currently using the Global Reporting Initiative’s tools for social and environmental reporting.

Several years ago in Poland there were just two companies that really embedded responsible business strategy into their central corporate structure. Danone was the first to have a member of the executive board in charge of corporate responsibility strategy. The French firm has created a partnership to reduce child malnutrition with Poland’s Mother and Child Institute, local governments and two other companies. The other company, heavy industry firm PKN Orlen, has a separate compliance department with a code of conduct created by employees.

British American Tobacco, active in the field of corporate responsibility in many countries, has started social reporting and its global social dialogue process in Poland. Procter & Gamble encourages its customers to use eco-friendly washing powder. Meanwhile, Philips has begun eco-marketing campaigns alongside its new environmentally friendly products. And one of the biggest Polish firms, telecoms monopoly Telekomunikacja Polska, is building infrastructure to enable people in rural villages to access the internet.

The Polish media does not yet play an important role in promoting the idea of social responsibility. But specialist and business journals are starting to write more about it. The discussion of corporate responsibility in public debate has been promoted by a growing number of reports from organisations such as the UN Development Programme. Awareness-raising campaigns about diversity and gender balance, financed by the EU, the World Bank and the UN, are also making an impact.

Poland is in the nascent stages of grasping the importance of modern corporate responsibility. Outside institutions have played an important role in raising awareness. But ultimately, it will be up to Polish managers to decide that corporate social responsibility can represent a competitive advantage, and to integrate it with their day-to-day business.

Iwona Kuraszko is development and research manager for the Responsible Business Forum in Poland.

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