Immediate past Governor of Lagos State, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, has described Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in its purest sense as business and entrepreneurship with a conscience.
According to him, seen from this perspective, no attempt by any government in the country should be made to compel by law acts of corporate social responsibility because such compulsion would erase the line of distinction between Governmental responsibility for social services and the voluntary intervention of companies who act as a matter of conscience and conviction for the common good.
Fashola, who spoke in Lagos at the 10th Anniversary of MTN Foundation, said for corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities to retain its concept as a voluntary contribution to better society, it must be allowed to flow from the conscience and conviction of such corporate organizations.
The former Governor, who spoke on the topic, “The Role of CSR in Nigeria’s Sustainable Development”, however, advocated some form of regulation and standards, but which, according to him, “should be a matter for the corporate community, using platforms like the established Chambers of Commerce or Associations of Manufactures who can draw up a charter of ethics”.
Such regulations, the former State Chief Executive said, “must be competitive and scored for public consumption and information so that companies are ranked, evaluated and penalized according to their compliance but there must be no discrimination or penalty for the companies that do not do CSR because it is voluntary.”
Arguing against the use of CSR to cover up wrongdoings or unethical practices in a host community, Fashola, who insisted that “corporations must be just before they can be generous”, declared, “If your operations pollute the environment, harms citizens, dis-empowers your employees or their families, no amount of profit devoted to CSR from such unjust, unethical or harmful operations can assuage the deep ethical questions raised by such non-salutary conduct”.
He warned, “The CEO, management and owners (shareholders) of every corporation that seeks to undertake CSR must pay as much attention to their CSR motives and
activities as they do to their balance sheets”, adding that they must answer such questions as whether, for example, they are running a financial institution that abuse the dignity of womenfolk by using them to mobilize deposits and setting unreasonable targets for them.
“Are they operating a telecoms company whose network is still carrying unregistered subscribers who remain anonymous and threaten our national security? Are they employers who do not give enough paid leave to nursing mothers and therefore undermine our National exclusive breastfeeding policy? Will our nation be better served by the profits saved from such practices or by breeding a healthier generation of Nigerians who are breast fed by nursing mothers who get 6 months paid leave?”,he asked.
Other questions which corporate organizations should answer while engaging in CSR, Fashola said, include whether or not they are employers who deduct PAYE from their employees but fail to remit it, oil sector operators whose activities pollute the waters and destroy the ecological life of the community they operate in or managers of airlines which never keep to schedule or operate substandard aircraft.
Urging shareholders of corporate organizations to raise such questions at AGMs and set compliance levels periodically, the former Governor, who said there are many more such questions that relate to other sectors, added, “It seems to me that such practices in themselves undermine national development and no amount of CSR can replace it”.
“Therefore, the operational actions of corporations must first contribute to development before CSR can help to sustain it”, he said adding, “There is a deep moral issue embedded in CSR. Every CEO must seek to find it, redefine it, improve on it and set even higher standards”.
According to the former Lagos State helmsman, “Corporate Social Responsibility is more than charity. In its purest form, it is business and entrepreneurship with a conscience. In this way, Corporate Social Responsibility will greatly assist in Nigeria’s quest for sustainable development”.
Quoting copiously from his past speeches on the same subject, Fashola noted that CSR entailed an organization considering the interests of society by taking responsibility for the impact of its activities on customers, suppliers, employees, shareholders, communities and other stakeholders, as well as the environment.
Fashola maintained that to be considered effective, corporate social responsibility “must be an integrated part of day-to-day business, engaging all stakeholders and including strategies to support individual managers to make socially responsible decisions, conform to ethical behaviour and obey the law.”
The former Governor, who noted that CSR meant different things to different people, however, urged organizations to key into the concept and spirit of the practice adding, “Society as a whole will fully appreciate it and this will greatly improve our environment for all our benefit. Furthermore, this will encourage all of us to participate in the much needed improvement of our nation”.
He argued that good CSR policy should compel businesses to comply with the letter and spirit of the law, to adopt fair trading practices, and generally to maintain high ethical standards in their relationships with shareholders and the general public in accordance with accepted norms.
“For every corporate organisation, CSR should be an in-built mechanism that moderates business practices and shuts out the notion of profits at all costs”, Fashola said adding, “Indeed, I believe that any Chief Executive of a business who intends to prosper must pay the same if not a higher level of attention to its CSR compliance as he does to the company’s balance”.
Thanking MTN Nigeria for the honour of the invitation, Fashola particularly thanked the Chairman, Dr. Pascal Dozie, who he described as Mr. MTN, adding that as far as the journey of the company as a corporate citizen was concerned the company had agreed “to engage people who had a molecule of virtues, who understood the principles of Good Governance and what it takes to be responsible”, adding that Dr. Dozie epitomized “those molecules of virtues, principles of Good Governance and what it takes to be responsible”.
“So do Mrs. Aminat Oyagbola, who was the first face of the MTN Foundation that I had interactions with as well as Nonny Ugboma and Akinwale Goodluck, Executive Secretary and Director respectively that I have interacted with several times in the course of my work as Governor, and in collaboration with the MTN Foundation”, he said.
Earlier in his address, the former Governor had drawn from the various CSR initiatives of MTN in Lagos State under his stewardship to buttress the place of ethics in corporate support.
“Let me start by asking whether anybody thinks that MTN’s operational activity as a phone company has adversely affected the vocational and technical skills and development of our youth in Lagos.
“I ask this question because I know that the MTN Foundation singlehandedly equipped a laboratory with vocational and technical equipment for the training of our young children in our technical college in Ikorodu and I know that Nigerite also set up a training school in the same college to train young people in modern roofing techniques,” he said.
Continuing, Fashola cited several other CSR initiatives of MTN Foundation. “Let me again ask if anybody can fairly allege or demonstrate that MTN’s operational activity is linked to increasing cases of Kidney diseases because I know that MTN Foundation intervened in collaboration with us to provide 2 Haemodialysis machines in our General Hospital in Igando, Alimosho, although we have since completed the Gbagada Cardiac and Kidney centre that now has 24 dialysis machines.
“Of course I will also ask if anybody can assert that MTN’s operational activity was responsible for the past neglect of public school infrastructure, because over 7 years, I know that MTN foundation was a major partner and donor to our ‘Adopt a School’ policy by which we got many individuals and corporates to partner with us to revamp the quality of our public schools.”
According to the former Lagos State helmsman MTN’s operational activity could also not be responsible for the absence of emergency telephone lines on our highways because, “I know that MTN foundation worked with our Government to install free emergency phones on the 3rd Mainland Bridge which was eventually unsuccessful because the phones were vandalized.”
Fashola urged the company to continue in its path of CSR in accordance with its mission to be the best, which, according to him are the “underpinning philosophies of MTN as a Telecommunications company”, adding, “Dr. Dozie provides clarity of vision and purpose behind the MTN foundation, which is the CSR platform of the MTN business”.