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CSR Archives - GMJ Associates

17 May


Radio Interview about Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)

17th May 2017 | By |



Grainne and Ellen

Grainne Madden and Ellen Gunning at Dublin City FM studios


Listen back to my discussion about CSR with Ellen Gunning on her Mediascope show, Dublin City FM.  We talk about how to define CSR, strategically aligned social benefit projects, whether consumers really care, ESG investing, non-financial reporting, supply chain checks and diversity quotas.


06 Apr


Is the law requiring CSR spend in India working?

6th April 2016 | By |

Indian Flag

Image of Indian Flag

I’ve previously written about my interest in India’s CSR Companies Act requiring larger companies to donate 2% of pre tax profits to good causes. The law was passed in April 2014 and an article in yesterday’s Guardian reviews progress two years on.

Debate has long raged in the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) community about the desirability of making CSR compulsory or even whether it is possible to make such a concept compulsory. The Indian law covers only the philanthropic spend by a company rather than responsible behaviour by a company and for me that’s far too narrow a view of what CSR is. Having said that it must be recognised that India has major social problems which government alone is not able to solve. So any intervention that will help address social issues and improve quality of life for marginalised communities should be welcome.

From the early days of the discussion about the forced spend in India there were concerns that it would turn into a tick box exercise for companies, that it might actually exacerbate inequality due to firms located in wealthier areas being more likely to support local projects and that it would lead to corruption with layers of bureaucracy siphoning off commissions. Commentary last year focused on lack of compliance by companies and that penalties could be enforced only on companies who failed to report their spending, not on those who did not actually spend the compulsory 2%. So, have things improved since then?

According to the Guardian article spend on charitable work in the private sector has jumped hugely from an estimated 33.67bn rupees in 2013 to around 250bn rupees. So this is good news, right? Well maybe. But such a large increase in spending may well create capacity problems in the charity sector. A charity that is flooded with money can find it very difficult to spend that money effectively. What do most human beings do with an oversupply of money in their pockets? Spend it on daft stuff. It certainly removes the pressure to be discriminating in our choices. If you are running a charity, having your income triple or more in a relatively short period of time does not automatically mean that you can access the right resources to scale up accordingly.

In the rush to spend the required amount, companies are also probably favouring the larger established and better known charities while smaller organisations find it hard to get a look-in and may also find it more difficult to deal with the bureaucracy of the corporate world. The easy option of funding the big charities or the government-approved projects is not resulting in the kind of innovative solutions that India needs. The focus needs to be more on outcomes than on money spent in order to ensure donations are being utilised effectively. The bias towards wealthier areas also appears to be a reality which means that the areas most in need are not seeing an uplift in living standards. As I’ve previously suggested this is short-sighted of companies who will need to grow their customer base in the future. That increase in consumers will come about through giving those who lack opportunity access to education and improved infrastructure. Quite simply, having access to power and water means kids can go to school rather than do household chores and can study due to light sources being available. If they get an education they get a chance to improve their earning ability enabling them to have a better quality of life and more disposable income as adults.

Despite the large increase in overall donation levels it appears that many companies are still failing to comply with the law. Reports suggest that 52% of the top 100 have not made their 2% donation. And while many Indian corporations have a long history of philanthropic involvement there are concerns that it’s far more difficult for them to use this to stand out now. It’s become more about legal compliance and there are fears that some of these long-term donors may scale back their giving if it doesn’t have the same reputational impact.

Disconcertingly it seems that corruption is indeed an issue with reports that some donations are being made on the understanding that they will be returned minus a commission. This implicates the charities in fraud as well as the donors. It may mean that charity employees are deciding that the greater good is served by getting some money for their work rather than none but the effect is to undermine trust in the charity sector, which can only be damaging in the longer term. It also demonstrates that some businesses are still failing to review their day-to-day practices through a lens of responsibility to society as a whole. Spending on good works while making profit through poor behaviour leads to cynicism amongst stakeholders, especially employees who are likely to be most aware of the inconsistency.

So the analysis is looking a bit bleak at the moment. But it’s early days in a major new initiative and it would be unrealistic to expect spectacular results at this point. A big plus has to be that it starts the conversation and gets corporate India discussing the part it can play in making things better for everyone. It will take imagination and persistence on the part of business, the charity sector and government to ensure that resources are used for projects that make a real difference and that this goes well beyond a mere compliance exercise of meeting a 2% target spend.



17 Nov


Are Lidl merchandisers not considering the message they are sending?

17th November 2015 | By |

The toy shown in the picture is in the current Lidl catalogue along with a number of really charming wooden toys.  But what were the Lidl buyers thinking?

Lidl hamburger and fries toy set

Picture from Lidl website [17th Nov 2015]


Concerns about childhood obesity and the accompanying health issues such as diabetes dominate the media.  Parents are struggling to contain the amount of ‘treat’ food their children eat against a background of constant bombardment of advertising of such food and constant availability at rock bottom prices.

I remember loving toys that mimicked everyday life in the world around me. I wanted a cash register like the one in the supermarket and I really liked my dolls’ house (even though I had no interest in dolls).  My parents even got me a real second-hand typewriter (cheaper than a toy one I suspect, if not perhaps free!).  I would have loved a toy shopping trolley with toy packets and tins. A number of toys in the range offered by Lidl seem to do this mimicking of life really well.  But making an image of fast food chain burger and chips a symbol of everyday life is I think a step too far in normalising them as every day food.  The colours of the toy also mimic those of the most well known provider of such food. It is hard to look at the picture without those golden arches coming to mind.If Lidl want to be seen as providing the means of sustenance and healthy food for families surely this jars and sends out the wrong message. Have they considered their responsibility to the families who are their customers? Have they considered their responsibilities to children and the implicit message being sent to them?

One of the other offerings is a representation of a cake. Why do I not have a problem with that? Well that is represented as a birthday cake which is clearly linked with special days and celebration rather than the everyday.

So what do you think? Am I a killjoy who is overthinking this?  Or do you see this as an error of judgement by Lidl?

03 Sep


Small Businesses Can Get Value From CSR Too

3rd September 2015 | By |

corporate social responsibility IrelandThis article from the Huffington Post talking about how the business case for CSR applies to smaller companies as well as large ones resonated with me. Since I started this business twelve years ago it’s been an ongoing source of frustration to me that we get business almost exclusively from large organisations. Read More

19 Aug


Goodbye To The 2015 TCD MBA Students

19th August 2015 | By |

trinity college mba studentsLast Friday there was a reception in Trinity College Dublin (TCD) to say good bye to the graduating MBA students. The 2015 TCD MBA students are both full-time, who have put in an extremely intensive year of study and project activity and part-time, who have juggled work and college for nearly two years. Of course they’ve all had the demands of their personal lives to deal with as well which are frequently very demanding for people at this stage of their lives.

I always try to get to their last day as the students’ exhilaration and delight at their achievement is infectious.  It is slightly bittersweet to say goodbye to people you’ve had the privilege of getting to know at an important time in their lives but it is also exciting to hear of their hopes and plans. Read More

30 Jul


Update on India’s mandated CSR for Large Companies

30th July 2015 | By |

csr in indiaI’ve previously written about my interest in the development of India’s legal requirement that larger companies spend 2% of pretax profits on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives. I came across this article which raises a number of problems in relation to this attempt to “mandate virtuous behavior by businesses”.

The writer points to the lack of penalties for non-compliance. Penalties can be enforced on companies only for failing to report on spending rather than on not spending the required amount. It could however be argued that in the interests of pragmatism it is far easier to track companies who fail to report and that those who do actually spend the required amount are likely to want to shout about it. However with news reports in India suggesting that as many as two-thirds of companies have failed to meet their obligations it does not appear that penalties for failing to report are being enforced. Read More

08 Jun


India and legally mandated CSR

8th June 2015 | By |

India's Legally mandated CSRFor years CSR researchers and commentators have debated whether it is practical or even desirable to impose CSR requirements on business. So I was interested in the first major implementation of this in India which legally mandated CSR last year. The law applies to companies with net worth of 5 billion Rs. (approximately $80 million); turnover of 10 billion Rs. at least (approximately $160 million); or net profit that exceeds 50 million Rs. (approximately $830,000).

This article reviewing first 13 months of India CSR companies act provides an interesting review of progress so far and makes the point that the change in the ruling party after last year’s election slowed things down as many believed that legislation would be delayed or softened to be more ‘business-friendly’. Read More

26 May


2015 Global CSR Study

26th May 2015 | By |

Research from Cone Communications is always worth a look. Here you’ll find their 2015 Global CSR study entitled 2015 CONE COMMUNICATIONS/EBIQUITY GLOBAL CSR STUDY which looks at the attitudes of Global consumers to CSR and their desire to see the companies they buy from addressing environmental and social problems. The results are encouraging though I confess that I take a slightly cynical view as we know consumers tend to tell researchers that they’ll buy from ‘good’ companies, even that they’ll pay more for products from ‘good’ companies but their actions don’t always follow their words.