Agnese Alksne, Chairwoman of the Board of CSR Latvia, outlines what they as a stakeholder network see as current CSR trends and challenges in Latvia and the Baltics; and comments on the upcoming Latvian EU presidency.
You are the second Baltic National Partner; could you tell us about current CSR issues and trends in Latvia and the main actors addressing these issues?
Agnese Alksne: CSR Latvia, as a stakeholder platform, grew out from several CSR initiatives taking place in Latvia since 2004. In 2013, the organisation was officially established in order to tackle the gaps between business and stakeholders.
CSR Latvia’s mission is to strengthen the value of CSR for business and society and to become a platform for CSR innovation, bringing together business and stakeholders. CSR Latvia members represent strong NGOs such as Transparency International Latvia, the environmental organisation “homo ecos:”, Latvia Human Resource Management Association, Defence and Security Industry Federation of Latvia, Forum of Small and Medium Companies of Latvia, businesses, as well as individual members e.g. professors from different universities involved in business education.
The perception of CSR in Latvia is changing. Society still perceives it mainly as a way for companies to tell about the good deed they did on Christmas or any other sponsorship project. But the business language is changing when it comes to business decisions. What are the expectations of partners, consumers and suppliers when entering the new export markets, especially in the West, and what is required to become a reliable partner in the supply chain? We also see that customers in Latvia start paying attention to the transparency of information about goods and services. Customers do not actively follow the information about CSR, but when an NGO or media comes with a story about inappropriate suppliers or talk about the bad influence of the product, then society pays attention to it and companies have to react. This is just one of the examples of how companies are changing their perspectives about CSR and stakeholder relations.
At present we are experiencing a new trend – the rise of start-ups and social entrepreneurship. New businesses are changing the rules of the game for business by introducing new models where transparency, ethics and social innovation takes the spotlight of business success. The new businesses are able to answer the question of why they are doing business and what value they bring to society.
As the Latvian Presidency of the Council of the European Union is approaching, what is your outlook on Latvia and CSR issues?
Agnese Alksne: CSR Latvia sees the Presidency as an opportunity to not only engage with decision makers, but even more so as the opportunity to empower civil society and the general public to increase their capacity to engage with decision makers. The Latvian Presidency has started successfully with the opening of the European Year for Development (EYD2015) on 9 January 2015. It will be a year dedicated to raising awareness, engaging Europeans everywhere in the EU’s development cooperation, and initiating a debate around the motto ‘Our world, our dignity, our future’.
The main Presidency focus in connection to CSR will be on:
Inclusive and sustainable labor market participation, with an increased attention on job quality, long-term unemployment persons with disabilities, and healthy lifestyle.
The three Presidencies (trio – Italy – Latvia – Luxembourg) will pursue efforts towards ‘greening’ the European Semester, taking the review of the Europe 2020 strategy into account. Here will be further development and review of environmental legislation, on the basis of the new Commission proposals, and on the legislative proposal concerning the cultivation of Genetically Modified Organisms
The Council will continue to work on the policy framework for climate and energy in the period from 2020 to 2030 in order to ensure that the EU post-2020 is on track to meet its climate objectives, while contributing to the overall sustainability, economic competitiveness and growth and security of energy supply in the EU.
Special attention will be given to the fight against criminal infiltration in public procurement, including money-laundering and corruption and other emerging threats as identified by Europol. Specific efforts will aim at recovering criminal assets in order to confiscate the proceeds of crime.
The proper implementation of legal acts – the Regulation on food information to consumers; the Regulation on food intended for infants and young children; food for special medical purposes and total diet replacement for weight control, will be important as they create a framework of reinforced information, transparency and a high level food safety for Union citizens.
Finally, the focus will be on measures aimed at increasing transparency of certain transactions in the shadow banking sector as well as human rights, good governance and gender equality as part of Development and cooperation issues.
What are the future challenges and opportunities of CSR in the Baltic region?
Agnese Alksne: The main challenge of CSR relates to the economy of the Baltic countries. It is challenging for responsible companies to perform business activities in the landscape of the present level of “shadow economy” (or an unregistered, grey, informal economy). Compliance to regulation is seen as part of being a responsible company. In Lithuania and Estonia, the national strategies are dealing partly with this problem, but discussions about new strategies are difficult as the context of CSR and recognition of fair businesses becomes a question of political and economic influence as well as competitive advantage creation. The opportunities to attract “responsible investments” to the region are rising, which is crucial for better business performance.
One of CSR Latvia’s challenges is to set up, together with stakeholders, the National CSR Strategy and action plan with an aim to support fair and responsible business. It is important that the state recognises responsible businesses, creates a framework of competitive advantages through public procurement, availability of EU funding, etc., and demonstrates good practice starting from state-owned companies. “The business beauty contest” – meaning voluntary self-evaluation is not enough anymore for stakeholders. Accordingly, the government’s role as a stakeholder within the business environment should increase.
The long term challenge for CSR Latvia, as well as for other Baltic countries, is to work with the wider society by uniting resources to inform society about CSR, hereby explaining the value of CSR for society and creating pressure for businesses to be responsible.
In October of last year, CSR Latvia signed a Memorandum of Understanding – LAVA, together with CSR Estonia and CSR Lithuania. How has this cooperation strengthened the organisations?
Agnese Alksne: The agreement between the Baltic countries’ national CSR representatives was our first important accomplishment after joining CSR Europe. Cooperation between the Baltic countries is very important due to the relatively small economies the low recognition of CSR among businesses and society. Baltic level cooperation is important in order to portray the Baltics as one region to companies working globally. Other focus areas recognised by the parties are joint initiatives at national, regional and European level to support public decision-makers in the creation or adaptation of balanced regulation to support responsible businesses. It is important for Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania to join forces in the development of CSR in each country and the whole region. In practice we will share information, co-ordinate and cooperate on practical or mutually relevant issues and activities, set up, agree upon, and promote a framework of what we consider a good understanding of CSR at the Baltic level.
It seems like there are a lot of things up and coming for you. What are your main initiatives and/or projects for 2015?
Agnese Alksne: In 2015 our priorities are to work with advocacy issues like the elaboration of a National CSR Strategy together with stakeholders, get involved in state-owned enterprise guideline preparation and keep up to date about public procurement issues, like the introduction of green procurement in municipalities. Our main projects will be (1) to start a dialogue about CSR with several industries, like printing, defence and others; (2) to initiate a Baltic level survey about CEOs’ and owners’ perception of CSR together with colleagues from Lithuania, Estonia and Finland; (3) to work on CSR Europe’s project on “Sustainable Living in Cities.”
As the newest National Partner of CSR Europe, what are your expectations from the Network?
Agnese Alksne: We are looking forward to getting to know the national and corporate members to better understand the CSR landscape in Europe. We are very interested to follow up on the EU agenda of any regulation for businesses related to CSR. We are ready to learn from our colleagues and participate in projects that bring value to our members and businesses in Latvia as well as share our experience working with SMEs and stakeholders. u
*Source: Earlier Published in CSR Europe