This interview with Thomas Thomas, Executive Director, Singapore Compact for CSR, is submitted by the organisers of the International Singapore Compact CSR Summit.
1. What are your hopes for International Singapore Compact CSR Summit that will be taking place from 6-7 October 2009 at Orchard Hotel?
I hope that there will be a surge in CSR awareness and implementation in Singapore and this will in turn act as an impetus for the region. The ideas and discussions leading from the Summit will motivate and ingrain the values and principles of CSR. It will result in better managed companies that take into account the interest of stakeholders and a better world for all.
2. What are your thoughts on the growth of CSR and SRI in Singapore and in Asia Pacific?
CSR and responsible investments are a growing global trend. SRI is relatively new in Asia and Singapore. While I do not have exact figures for the region, I know that there is a greater interest among investors. They are asking companies about their ESG record. Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) factors are being seen as important factors that determine the sustainability and success of enterprises. Companies with ESG practices perform better as they are usually better managed. They will attract more investor funds which will be reflected in a higher share price compared to those not practicing CSR or reporting on their ESG.
3. In terms of SRI, how much foreign funds are coming into Singapore? What are your comments on the amount invested?
From the comments gleaned from our conversations with local CEOs, we know that there are European and US funds looking for opportunities in Asia. This is seen as a growth region and at the same time they want to minimize risks. The factors used in responsible investing are becoming more mainstream. So many who do not call themselves SRI funds still use the principles and ask the same questions to ensure that they are making the right investments, that is those which are sustainable in the long term.
4. What does the Singapore Compact do in terms of assisting SMEs to incorporate ethical and sustainable business practices?
SMEs are an important part of our membership. 99% of all firms in Singapore are SMEs. We have worked with some SMEs, and these enlightened SMEs do not remain as SMEs for long. They grow and prosper. That is the objective of all firms and we help them by raising awareness, support them in building capacity and in sharing their CSR journey.
5. What are your thoughts on the Singapore government’s initiatives in assisting businesses in terms of their CSR?
The Singapore government has always believed in the concept of CSR, right from the early days of the country’s industrialization, and has put the CSR framework in place from then. Investors had to be attracted for economic growth. The tripartite framework of government, business and labour work together to ensure that Singapore is attractive for investors, for labour to get fair returns, and high environmental standards had ensured economic growth and prosperity with rising quality of life for workers and their families in an environment that is relatively safe and clean.
6. What can be done (specifically or in general) for things to improve in Singapore and in the region?
Singapore has many advantages that make it natural for us to adopt CSR intrinsically. We need to build on these advantages. We practice implicit CSR, with the framework of laws, principles, practices and social norms. Singapore companies are not irresponsible. We have to be more explicit in reporting what is being done and embedding CSR in an organisation’s core values and principles. These values and principles will have to be translated into practices that will be in line with international norms.