Sustainable growth were the buzzwords at Cambodia’s first-ever corporate social responsibility conference, which began Thursday in Phnom Penh.
About 200 foreign experts, corporate representatives, NGO workers and international organization representatives discussed the role of corporations in society and how they can continue making a profit while still helping society as a whole. The two-day conference was organized by Chhuor Proseth at Dhub Asia, a Phnom Penh-based advertising agency that focuses on implementing corporate social responsibility strategies in businesses.
“In other countries [CSR] was already the way. It was being done [in Cambodia] too but it was very scattered,” Chhuor Proseth said Thursday. “We wanted to put Cambodia on the map as a responsible country.”
Social responsibility as a general term builds on the idea that private corporation can do more to lift a population from poverty and create sustainable growth than charities or government, Brian Lund, regional director for Oxfam America, told the conference. It can include everything from philanthropy to organic farming or education, Lund said.
He added, however, that there is little to suggest CSR can actually increase a company’s profits, even though recent studies have showed there is a correlation with successful businesses and CSR.
“You wouldn’t actually make any money on [CSR] unless you make it known you are doing it,” Lund said, adding that CSR could be a good public relations tool for companies wanting to reach out to consumers.
Out of the 200 people attended the conference Thursday, representatives of corporate Cambodia were few and far between. The entrance fee for the event was $250.
Some of those attending expressed disappointment at the low number of businessmen, but in general, opinions about the conference were positive, and for many it was the first time they had heard about CSR.
“It sound interesting and very useful, however, I cannot apply it after I go back to my workplace because I don’t know enough about it,” said Hay Kim Tha, director of Cambodian Handicraft Association for Landmine and Polio Disabled.
One of the few representing corporate Cambodia was Kun Lim, corporate and regulatory affairs director at British American Tobacco. At the conference he gave a presentation about BAT’s work to help tobacco farmers improve quality and how to get a higher yield.
Asked about his company’s social responsibility to reduce the negative impact BAT’s products have on health, he said: “[BAT] recognizes that our product is bad for your health, and we support any effort to reduce the damage.”
But, he added, tobacco is after all a legal product.
The conference, Kun Lim said, was a great initiative even though a lot of businesspeople didn’t show up.
“It’s got to start from somewhere, so I think credit should go to whoever initiated this,” he said. “We need this kind of thing more often, although it might not be the subject for the old business community, but you have to start to talk about it.”