In Cambodia — particularly, in Phnom Penh — a concept has been gaining momentum throughout the last decade, that not long ago might have seemed hopelessly foreign. CSR, or Corporate Social Responsibility, is now a well-established practice among a good number of the companies that populate the capital’s business scene.
CSR Asia, the leading provider of information, training, research and consultancy services on sustainable business practices in Asia, defines corporate social responsibility as “a company’s commitment to operating in an economically, socially and environmentally sustainable manner while balancing the interests of diverse stakeholders.”
Few would associate the extractive industry with the principles outlined in this definition. However, one corporation with stakes in Cambodia is helping to change that negative image so often associated with mining. Angkor Gold Corp., the people behind Cambodia’s first royalty-paying, fully-approved mining project, has set — and continues to — precedents in the Kingdom on ethical and responsible industry practices.
The company’s efforts to offset the impact of its operations were recognized in 2014, when Delayne Weeks, its VP of Corporate Social responsibility, was invited to speak as a panelist at a United Nations forum on mining, minerals, metals and sustainable development. The Alberta-based corporation incorporates CSR as part of its corporate strategy in a fashion unprecedented for any other mining company of its size. Where Angkor Gold operates, local communities and staff at all levels benefit from training in English, advanced exploration methodologies, first aid training, computer applications and environmental preservation.
From the extraction of the earth’s minerals to the procurement of mobile connectivity, we move into the telecommunications industry to find another company leading the way in CSR. Smart-Axiata, the popular, youngster-friendly Cambodian telco, last year scooped an important award. The renowned international publication Global Banking and Finance Review named Smart-Axiata the company with the Best Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) program for 2015.
The accolade was awarded following Smart-Axiata’s efforts to counter illiteracy. In a series of collaborations with UNESCO and the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports, the telco helped 92,000 youngsters across the nation learn to read and write. Smart-Axiata also sponsors the Cambodian delegation to the Homeless World Cup and engages annually in tree planting and clean-up activities.
The banking sector is the Kingdom is also no stranger to philanthropic initiatives. ABA, ANZ Royal, Canadia Bank and a host of other local and international banking houses with operations in the capital have all developed increasingly complex CSR programmes that have notably impacted local communities. For Maybank, social responsibility lies at the core of the corporate strategy: indeed it’s one of the pillars on which the corporation is built. Their commitment to sustainability is in line with the bank’s mission to “humanise financial services.” The Malaysia-based banking group was named the “Best CSR Bank Cambodia 2015” by the Global Banking & Finance Review, an accolade fully justified by the banking group’s fruitful CSR initiatives carried throughout the year.
Another case in point is Himawari Hotel Apartments. The hospitality group stands out not just for its world-class hotel facilities and premium craft beer; they also pride themselves in giving back to the community. They support Project Khmer H.O.P.E., a St. Andrew’s Cathedral Singapore initiative aimed at alleviating poverty and creating sustainable livelihoods for Cambodians with social, economic and health disabilities. Himawari takes in students from Project Khmer H.O.P.E. and provides them with on-the-job training within their hotel. The director of the Himawari Hotel Apartments, Andrew Tay, says that through this and other CSR initiatives they “hope to raise service standards and benefit the hospitality sector of Cambodia in general.” Over 600 students have graduated from PKH programmes and all have secured jobs in various hotels and restaurants, including a few who have began employment with Himawari.
But is CSR a luxury reserved for big players?; is it just a pastime for those with enough money and time in their hands to engage in side philanthropic activities? The answer, flat out, is “no”.
More and more, CSR is viewed as a sound corporate strategy. In Cambodia the trend is moving towards including CSR as part of the enterprise’s regular methods of doing business. An increasing number of corporations see it as a way of improving productivity. Companies like ANZ Royal Bank, or the local Yejj Group, have adopted CSR as a deliberate strategy to reduce turnover, increase job satisfaction, develop a positive image, and, ultimately, contribute to the competitiveness of the company. The rationale is simple: In the words of Veronique Salze-Lozac’h—Deputy Director General of the Independent Evaluation Department at the Asian Development Bank—CSR positively affects your bottom line by “improving the image of your corporation and its attractiveness for clients, partners and even employees.”