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Opinions of Sunday, 31 July 2016

Columnist: Princess Sekyere

CSR: The need for policy framework in Ghana

Princess Sekyere Princess Sekyere

The overall contributions of businesses to sustainable development underpin the concept of Corporate Social Responsibility (UNES 2007). It is termed differently in several circles.

While companies prefer using the term CSR or Corporate citizenship, non-governmental organizations and some governments prefer social investment. Some, in recent times, prefer sustainable development in order to demonstrate their consciousness and commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).

Whatever the term used, be it corporate citizenship, philanthropy, corporate responsibility, social investment or triple bottom line, generally it connotes the contribution of businesses to development in a country.

Currently, CSR has become a popular acronym in the Ghanaian media and means many things to many companies. It is often used by companies at the slightest show of philanthropy to society no matter the worth of what they give out. And with the UN’s declaration of the Sustainable Development Goals it has become even more imperative that companies prove their commitment.

Regardless, companies cannot be blamed for the exploitation of the term if they have committed resources in any quantum to address societal issues. Where there are no clear guidelines and structured framework for CSR practice in a country, the misuse of the term is inevitable and that could expose the all-important role of public policy in shaping CSR practice in Ghana.

The challenge with CSR practice in Ghana is lack of strong commitment to integrate CSR practice in to public policy as recognized by Kweku Rockson, senior lecturer at the Ghana Institute of Journalism in a lecture delivered at the Junior Chamber International (JCI) Ghana. He argues that this has led to some organizations virtually isolating some aspects of CSR.

No wonder in Ghana CSR can be seen to be more social than environmental and more outward (projects in society) than inward (working environment and human right issues). A practice not guided by policy or clear-cut national framework or benchmarks portrays a chaotic scene where companies build with no clear guidelines or with self-made social architectural designs.

Most often this leads to the duplication of social projects in particular sectors (education and health) to the neglect of other sectors (water and agriculture) that equally need attention.

Though there are considerations and efforts to integrating CSR practice in public policy such as the setting up of the CSR policy committee in 2013, government has shown little commitment to this cause. Perhaps government is oblivious of the great potential of the Ghanaian private sector in contributing to social and environmental development as compared to external and donor assistance.

The allocation of resources annually for social projects demonstrates the private sector’s eagerness and enthusiasm to address social issues in Ghana. Companies such as Vodafone, Guinness Ghana and Tullow to mention but are few, continue to demonstrate their commitment to addressing social issues.

Regardless of the amount of financial contribution, are these being harnessed and aligned to a national plan for the actualization of the SDG goals? How is the private sector being roped in to contribute to development in Ghana?

Actualizing development in a sustainable and equitable manner reinforces the importance of public policy in CSR. A policy framework which will outline clear targets and enforce minimum standards, guarantee transparency and accountability of business, ensure innovative and adaptable core standards and provide guidelines for reporting as identified by Rockson will provide the enabling environment for effective practice of CSR in Ghana.

Government is the primary development agent in the country and has the responsibility to create the needed environment as well as employing measures to advance sustainable development in the country.

Adopting a policy framework, which states a clear development vision on the part of government with objectives and timelines will maximize the potential of the private sector in contributing to the SDGs in Ghana.

The writer is the Founding Director of Kingdom Concepts Consult (KCC).