Thai firms top in region for CSR activities

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Thailand, The Sunday Nation (24 July 2016) -- Thailand came first among Asean countries in a survey on corporate social responsibility by the respected National University of Singapore (NUS) and Asean CSR Network, it was revealed yesterday.

 "The findings were surprising to many people who thought Singapore would take the top place," said Professor Lawrence Loh, director of NUS Business School's Governance Institute.

A highly accomplished academic, Dr Loh, who headed the survey, said Singapore remained the top anti-corruption and business-friendly nation in Asean but "in terms of community work", Thailand excels.

"Thailand came ahead in Sustainability Reporting, where listed companies are required to publish their CSR contributions.

"The extensive and detailed reporting on CSR activities by respective Thai firms for the past year reflected a deep commitment to improving community and social conditions," Loh said.

Among the Thai firms with the highest scores were Advanced Info, Intouch, True, PTT, Bangchak, PTTEP, Thai Oil, Charoen Pokphand, Delta Electronics and Electric Generating Company.

"The amount of Thai CSR activities were on average more numerous than other participants. Thais show a much stronger performance qualitatively and quantitatively."

Thailand also scored the highest marks for a corporate disclosure survey, which measured the steps taken by companies to be transparent and in discouraging graft.

Loh said Thai companies took the strongest stance in informing management and staff on compliance with best practice and honesty.

Thai companies were also able to disclose political contributions much more openly, where such information was deemed more serious. Many Asean countries are dominated by a single party.

Loh admitted there were suggestions by some observers to "tweak" the survey to lift Singapore's standing.

In flatly rejecting the overture, Loh told them: "This is not the SEA Games, It's not about medals.

"The findings will stand and fall where they stand. We are objective and balanced," he added.

The findings were based on the latest information provided in annual company reports that require proof of conduct.

Former Thai diplomat Dr Netithorn Praditsarn, who is now with CP Group, said he was pleased that an objective report has been made that showed a more balanced side about Thai business practices. "Many Thai firms are happy and ready to give back to society."

He noted that in recent years the Western media tend to paint a negative picture. While some criticisms are justified, there were also cases of exaggerration, he said.

"The most important thing in CSR is to deliver a practical programme for companies to follow. Bureaucrats tend to favour huge amounts of paperwork and that hampers the objective."

Loh agreed that small companies have limited resources and cannot match the manpower of big firms in CSR and disclosures.

"We have to compare apples with apples. One reason less developed countries in Asean could not be included was the lack of listed companies," Loh said.

Deputy chairperson of the Asean CSR Network Pensri Suteerasarn, who is also president of the Thai Listed Companies Association, praised the survey for revealing how deeply Thais view community and social contributions.

"Most companies genuinely believed in sustainability and good governance," she said. "While 100 of the 600 listed companies were able to participate fully, more need to join the fold.

"CSR is still in its infancy. We have to take one step at a time. The talk about including small and medium sized firms is further down the road."

Another delegate, Assoc Prof Thongtippha Viriyapan from the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce, said Thailand's good performance was due to lessons learnt from the Asian financial crisis in 1997 when the baht plunged in value and over 50 financial institutions collapsed. The crash woke people up to the need for governance, she said, and changed the way business is conducted today.