Charity begins at board level for some do-gooder firms

Published on December 9, 2007. By John Reynolds

Some firms take corporate social responsibility more than others

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR): is it just another form of PR, or is there some substance behind the hype?

Some firms boast about their do-gooding on their websites; others in a section of their annual reports. O2 publishes a separate CSR annual report every year. But it seems some companies do more good than others.

Ireland’s largest company, CRH, had sales of €18.74bn last year and profits of €1.77bn, so it can easily afford the annual contribution of €1m to the Simon Community for its campaign to end homelessness. The cement giant is also investing €210m in a project to cut greenhouse gas emissions in Ukraine.

CRH has been joined on the green bandwagon by Tesco, which is spending €30m over the next five years to cut its energy use and reduce its carbon footprint. O2 is sourcing green energy from Energia for all its Irish energy needs. Dell recycled more than 70 tonnes of computer equipment after holding free recycling days in Limerick and Cherrywood. And Google will be carbon neutral in 2008.

In Britain, specialist CSR consultants such as Steve Hilton’s Good Business and Tomorrow’s Company have filled the niche. Former advertising executive Hilton was a spin doctor for Fianna Fail under Albert Reynolds and he now spins for the Conservatives in Britain, while Tomorrow’s Company has several former marketing men on its payroll. Members of the wider business community make up the board of non-profit organisation Business in the Community here in Ireland and 44 Irish firms have signed up to its corporate responsibility and sustainable business charter.

Quinn Group has played a significant role in the development and support of the Cavan, Monaghan and Fermanagh area. The group supports GAA and social clubs, and sponsors a range of charities and events in Ireland, the UK and the Czech Republic. In addition, the annual QUINN-direct Charity Pro-Am is the largest charitable pro-am in the country, directly raising more than €300,000 for local and national charities over recent years.

Ireland’s IT giants — Dell, Microsoft, Google and Intel — have a heap of employee fundraising initiatives and they’re involved in a range community projects. Dell raised more than €43,000 for the Cari Foundation last year and employees raised a further €40,000 for other charities. Microsoft and Intel also have a range of initiatives, focused mainly on education. Microsoft CEO Bill Gates’s global foundation is rarely out of the headlines and Google has its own multi-million dollar philanthropic arm.

Vodafone has set up the Vodafone Ireland Foundation, whose €1m projects this year are helping young people, children and their families. It also supports organisations such as Barnardos children’s charity and the Samaritans. The mobile phone network also paid several people a €45,000 salary to take a year out from their jobs to work for a charity.

In the food sector, Kerry Group seems to have the edge over Glanbia when it comes to being a responsible member of the community. “We’re almost seen as a grant agency down here in Kerry,” spokesman Frank Hayes says. One per cent of its pre-tax profits are put aside for charitable and community causes. That’s impressive when you consider some other firms mentioned here set aside only a fraction of one per cent of their profits. The list of causes the group has helped includes Concern, as well as arts, sports teams and events including Writers’ Week, racecourses and local hospitals.

Glanbia’s employees support Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital in Crumlin and the Boys’ and Girls’ Club in the US, and the company adds a €75,000 corporate donation. The annual report also mentions initiatives related to nutrition and the environment.

In the case of Bank of Ireland, its headline fundraiser is the Irish Cancer Society’s Daffodil Day; last year it raised €79,000. AIB has a dedicated CSR committee and a range of environmental initiatives, sponsorship and corporate giving programmes. Its Better Ireland Programme helps socially excluded children. Anglo Irish Bank has a mentoring programme with Warrenmount School in Dublin’s Liberties, and the bank made a “substantial” corporate donation to five employee-nominated charities each year — but this would need to amount to €8.5m to equal just one per cent of its 2006 profits.

Tullow Oil stands out among its peers and publishes a CSR report which champions its various and extensive environmental and community projects in Uganda, South Africa, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

Tesco and Musgrave — owner of Centra and Super Valu — are vying for the title of most responsible retailer. Tesco is expected to raise more than €1m for its nominated charity this year, Temple Street Children’s Hospital in Dublin. Musgrave has pledged to be partially carbon-neutral by 2008. A spokeswoman for clothes retailer Penneys said the company is a member of Business in the Community and was the main sponsor of the Irish Association of Youth Orchestras from 1995 to 2006. “We regularly support various charity organisations throughout Ireland and the UK,” she added.

Ryanair isn’t a company that springs to mind when you think of charitable causes, but Jim Callaghan, the airline’s director of regulatory affairs, is also a director of Orbis Ireland, Ryanair’s nominated charity for the past two years.

“Our partnership with Orbis is worth well over €100,000 to them every year and we’ve helped promote them and raised money for them through various passenger and employee initiatives such as fundraising days and free Ryanair tickets for donors,” he says.

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