SMEs advised to identify, document processes supporting responsible business conduct

As calls for responsible business conduct (RBC) gain strength globally, enterprises can start their journey toward RBC by first looking into their processes closely as they may unknowingly be practicing it already, according to experts.

Nenette Fernando, RBC senior adviser and consultant at the Employers Confederation of the Philippines (ECOP), observed that businesses, especially small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), are understandably worried about the challenges of implementing RBC considering they are short on capital and resources.

Fernando, speaking at a recent ECOP-hosted webinar, advises firms that the easiest way to do it is to “start somewhere,” initially by going after the low-hanging fruit.
She urged companies to scrutinize their processes as they may actually be doing RBC without realizing it, such as implementing resource recycling or paper management.

“It’s a matter of identifying and recognizing what they are doing, and putting them together…. So there’s a sense of coherence of what we’re doing in terms of these initiatives and putting them together, and let our management leaders champion this RBC as a company policy,” Fernando said.

Gry Saul, senior advisor on corporate social responsibility and RBC at the Confederation of Danish Industry, agreed that many companies have already adopted responsible business practices. “But because they are maybe not so familiar with the terminology, when they are being asked by suppliers, they are not able to respond to the demands,” she said.

Saul suggests documenting RBC activities and communicating that information to their business partners. Wastewater control, equal pay and recycling policies are examples of good business practices that firms may have been doing for a long time, without thinking that these actually fall within the framework of RBC, she said.

For firms with limited resources, it makes business sense to make risk assessment their top priority and to pour their efforts in that area, she continued. “Prioritize at least where you can minimize your negative impacts and see if there’s anywhere you can have positive impacts.” If the company is able to document and demonstrate this undertaking, it can help differentiate itself from other suppliers and retain customers and even win new businesses.

Responsible business conduct, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), is “about making a positive contribution to economic, environmental and social progress with a view to achieving sustainable development and avoiding and addressing adverse impacts related to an enterprise’s direct and indirect operations, products or services.”

Practicing RBC provides a lot of benefits, said Fernando. It enhances company performance, allows for business continuity, mitigates crisis-related legal risks, improves the company’s stock price and long-term value, protects brand reputation, and drives the integration of sustainable development goals into the company’s core business and management practices.

She said that for those looking for standards or metrics for RBC, there are three main international instruments they can refer to. These are the International Labour Organization (ILO) Tripartite Declaration of Principles concerning Multinational Enterprises and Social Policy, the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, and the United Nations (UN) Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

The three are aligned with and complement each other, with each organization, based on its mandate and expertise, bringing its own value-added to the mix. The ILO with its tripartite structure has authority on international labor standards, the OECD takes a broad approach to RBC and has the links to economic policies, and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the UN Working Group have the expertise on business and human rights mandates.

Fernando urged SMEs to take the time to understand these guidelines, pointing out that even small players, since they are linked to multinationals and form part of the global supply chain, are also affected by the growing push toward RBC.

Emilie Maramag, vice president for finance and administration at Mariwasa Siam Ceramics, at the same seminar concurred, as she explained that even as her company practices RBC, all their suppliers are also required to abide by the same rules.

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