The evolution of corporate social responsibility (CSR) in China did not start with consumers, as it did in the West.
It came from the Chinese Government as a mechanism to encourage more sustainable and social practices, explains Bill Valentino, former Vice President at Bayer (China) and almost 30 year China veteran.
In The Beginning
Most people know about the work international companies do to promote CSR. Less known are how CSR started to take root in China and how active it is today among Chinese companies.
CSR first became a topic in China at the end of the 1990s, mainly in Southern China. The Chinese initially viewed CSR as an attempt by the West to limit Chinese trade and install trade barriers. They thought to themselves that maybe the West didn’t want them to grow so rapidly. This began a negative response to CSR which lasted about a year.
Perceptions changed, however, and almost overnight. The Chinese Ministry of Commerce figured out that CSR is about trade, economics, growth, and they began to see opportunity in it to drive solutions on the environment, labor and social issues. China surely needed to have a debate on those topics, so it became a benefit rather than a detriment.
CSR really started taking root in the large state-owned enterprises around 2007. It was then that SASAC (the ministry responsible for overseeing all state-owned enterprises) passed guidelines for CSR, stating that their companies had to take it on. This was revolutionary. At that point ithey realized the need for an invisible hand to guide companies to go the right way and do the right thing.
The textile industry began adopting standards and measurements around that time as well.
Who's Taking The Lead?
In China, CSR has been pushed through on a compliance level rather than free will. Indeed it didn’t come from consumers, like in the West. It came from Government, which realized CSR has value as a mechanism to direct companies toward more sustainable and socially-oriented programs.
They started with the biggest companies, including Sinopec, Minmetals, Cosco. Sinopec is in fact the first Chinese company to come out with an environmental report. They had a sustainability report, too. This is revolutionary for China. It’s moving ahead and things are happening.