Corporate social responsibility in Iraq

20 Feb 2011

Erbil -  The brainstorming meeting on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) took place in Erbil today, 20th February 2011, jointly organized by the Ministry of Planning and UNDP as a first event aiming to introduce the concept of CSR as a driver for sustainable development and public-private partnerships in Kurdistan Regional Government and Iraq as a whole.

At the presence of H.E. Minister of Planning Dr. Ali Sindi, more than 40 participants joined the meeting - representing relevant governmental entities such as Minister of Labor and Social Affairs, Ministry of Trade and Industry, Ministry of Higher Education, KRG Investment Board, Erbil Governor office, Provincial Council, as well as private sector, civil society and academia - to discuss how an innovative and globally functioning model such as CSR can be introduced in KRG to accelerate the achievement of regional development priorities through a strengthened role of the private sector in the society.

H.E. Dr. Sindi opened the meeting highlighting the achievements in KRG in the last decade in terms of development and increase of investments, thanks to government, private sector and community efforts. He remarked however that some key challenges remain in tackling social needs and that an increased flow of investments must be accompanied by adequate mechanisms to ensure the benefits of such investments reach the society as a whole in a long-term and sustainable manner. This is the main reason to convene a meeting on CSR at this stage of KRG development, calling the private sector and all relevant partners to define such mechanism in response to the needs of the region. The UN Global Compact was finally mentioned as one of such instruments, globally recognized, to be considered for CSR promotion in KRG.

Mr Paolo Lembo, UNDP Iraq Country Director, stressed on the reasons behind UN interest in promoting the role of private sector, recognizing its increasing importance as an agent for healthy growth. While there are important challenges to address in KRG in the area of economy and society, CSR is equally important– not as a philanthropic or purely moral concept but rather as a business model to spur sustainable development. This meeting intends to introduce such model in KRG and provide a test case for further implementation, with the patronage of the Ministry of Planning as the body playing the essential role of coordination and partnership promotion for KRG development.

Along these lines, UNDP experts working on private sector development and governance – Ms Arouna Roshanian and Mr Jean-Louis Galliard – presented further on the concept of CSR to clarify its meaning, sphere of action, benefits for investment attraction and impact maximation, role of the local government in supporting and promoting CSR as clearly distinguished from the role of private sector in implementing it as a voluntary practice.

The UN Global Compact (UN GC) with its 10 principles covering the areas of human rights, labour, environment and anti-corruption was further explored as a mechanism providing an institutionalized systematic framework for companies and governments alike to introduce CSR in a practical manner, complying with globally recognized standards and at the same time identifying local priorities to adapt to the specific country context through the establishment of UN GC Local Networks. The current situation in KRG and Iraq was presented to analyze the readiness for the launch of such a mechanism as the UN GC Local Network in KRG – where a number of local and foreign companies already signed the UN GC and/or can be encouraged to do so.

The role of civil society and media was also highlighted as particularly relevant in raising public awareness and monitoring corporate behavior, with the aim to improve civic engagement and multi-stakeholder dialogue as well as enhancing self-regulatory practices.

A relevant case at country level was brought by the UNDP Project Director of the UN GC in Syria, Mr Muhammad Agha, who presented how the CSR journey in Syria has led to important achievements in the last 3 years, by building a platform for public-private partnerships through an expanding UN GC local Network that counts today more than 50 members from different sectors in private sector and civil society. He emphasized how the success of the initiative was due to the support of the government, namely the State Planning commission, in advocating for CSR and leading the way through inclusive growth enhancement to promotion of MDGs based PPPs. Examples from the Syrian experience, in building a participatory structure though a National advisory Board and in enhancing the image of the country vis-à-vis global market, were discussed with meeting participants to identify how a similar successful case can be experienced in KRG as well.

The discussion among participants brought up further relevant points related to: the need of engaging chambers of commerce and business organizations; the identification of sectors and companies scale most likely to benefit from CSR; the difficulties for the private sector in implementing CSR initiatives in a systematic organic way and in finding a correlation between CSR and profit; the distinction between CSR and marketing campaign; the need to prioritize KRG activities and understand where CSR stands in such priority list; the need of mapping actors in both government and private sector for a successful CSR action plan.

Response to some of these issues led to the concluding session and to the definition of a way forward in promoting CSR in KRG. As presented by Mr Zagros Siwaily, Director General at the Ministry of Planning, next steps will include:

  • An official letter to be sent by the Ministry of Planning to all listed companies to encourage adherence to CSR principles and UN Global Compact

  • Creation of a Forum by the Ministry of Planning to launch a discussion platform and collect feedback from a broader range of partners to raise awareness and prepare the ground for CSR

  • Planning and organization of a large event to present the case for CSR and UN GC launch with private sector representatives, including chambers of commerce, federations of industries, business associations and unions, to take place within a 3 months timeline.