Slovak companies warming up to Corporate Social Responsibility

Companies in Slovakia have the possibility to give away 2% of their taxes to one or more NGOs as a gesture of their social commitment. Building relationships and taking responsibility for employees and the community is the definition of the forum "Corporate Social Responsibility". The forum brings together responsible organisations and motivates others to do make similar commitments, for example to the environment or to their employees. Katarina Richterova reports:

Christmas is approaching, the season of good will. Many people donate money to charity, or give away clothing and food.

However it's not just at Christmas that we need to think of ways of helping those in need. Many Slovaks today have little money to spare, but there is plenty of money in business. Business and philanthropy - can they go hand in hand?

A mobile phone operator helping homeless people fill out job applications, funding work to repair damage in a storm-damaged National Park, or an advertising firm paying for a campaign on healthy eating. These are all examples of how business can merge with the non-profit sector. It is called Corporate Social Responsibility or in short CSR. Generally companies mostly invest in NGOs closest to their area of business. Danica Balazova marketing manager of HP says being an IT company, their priority is PC literacy.

"HP's activities have been supporting education in Slovakia for a long time and we have a long-term relationship with organizations and many universities. We give them financial support and our products too."

In Slovakia a few years ago CSR activities began to be realized under the umbrella of the Business Leaders Forum, under the Pontis foundation. Over the years financial assistance from companies usually went to the most attractive areas like social affairs, health care, and education says Lenka Surotchak, director of the Pontis foundation.

"We believe that if more companies were aware of what non-governmental organistaions are doing and what the needs are in society, assistance would also go to topics that aren't as popular among the broader public."

Every year, to honour companies that show responsibility for their community and employees, the Pontis Foundation gives away the Via Bona award. As Ms. Surotchak, director of the Pontis foundation says, not only major corporations, but also small and medium businesses compete for it.

"One nice example was a small catering company that employed people with physical disabilities."

Although many companies in Slovakia implement CSR the country is still not on the same level as western or neighbouring countries. Lenka Surotchak explains why:

"The legislation in our country doesn't really help much to promote CSR. The media doesn't have the tools to report on the good deeds of companies without them being attacked and accused of advertising." Doing something good, but still with a logo or company name or slogan up front. Many have a problem with this, and call CSR, only another way of advertising a company brand, and not real philanthropy.

"I think that it's okay that the company, which is doing something good, wants some recognition for it. It's good that there is this competition among the companies in the area of philanthropy. I think this will stimulate others to do something good and well."

More competition in this field, Surotchak says could bring more money but also more business abilities or talent to the non profit sector.

According to a survey every second Slovak prefers products from responsible companies. However experts say people don't match these ideals with deeds and unfortunately in Slovakia there is still not enough pressure put on companies from the side of customers to behave responsibly.

Corporate Social Responsibility is in a way giving back some of the profit that companies make from us. And if we want this cash and responsible behaviour to make a visible difference we need to start noticing who we buy from.