05. 02. 2016 Corporate responsibility

There is a declining margin of tolerance for non-transparent business

At the Responsible Breakfast on 3 February we talked with Peter Škodný, the new Business Leaders Forum (BLF) president.

Photographs: © Marek Chalány

There has been striking progress made in doing business responsibly compared to the situation in the 1990s. These were the words of the BLF president at the Responsible Breakfast held with the media on 3 February 2016. The meeting’s goal was to make the public more aware of choosing responsible companies, whether they worked for them or were their customers, and to push companies to do business responsibly.

“Compared to the situation in 2000, we can see that the margin of tolerance in non-transparency has declined among the public. Still, there are some people who don’t care about responsibility because they are grateful for having a job in the first place,” Peter Škodný explained. According to him, doing business responsibly in Slovakia is hard, but on the other hand it is also an opportunity for companies to have long-term success in the market. This topic has become a real one in Slovakia, but not for everybody. “People and companies will speak up more and they will consistently require ethical behaviour from everybody, regardless of whether it is in the business sector or the state administration,” Škodný claimed.

Yet there are still many areas in which Slovakia is underdeveloped. “What has not changed is that the business environment tolerates a lack of transparency. On top of that, entrepreneurs don’t often create enough pressure for the state and the state institutions to change the business environment. The state’s non-transparent behaviour is simply tolerated. To a varying degree, this problem also exists in Hungary, Romania and the Czech Republic. That’s why one of the BLF’s priorities is law enforcement and the predictability of the legal environment,” Škodný added.

A low number of companies, but with a great impact

The BLF association started eleven years ago with eleven founding members. Today, it has 34 members. Last year two more members joined, and seven joined the year before. While the number of companies in the BLF is not high, they are not small companies. “At the end of the day, these companies have a great impact because they have a big supply chain and they actively influence the education system. Most of them pursue an active dialogue with the government about the legislative environment and its development. The fact we are small does not mean that we are of low quality. We think that the companies in the BLF can create enough pressure,” Škodný claimed. Miroslav Šarišský from Slovenské elektrárne has a similar opinion, adding that, “All the companies in the BLF have a vast network of suppliers, which means that through this network they can also influence other companies and their behaviour, and they can be an example of behavioural values for them.”

The BLF aims to address companies which are leaders in corporate responsibility. “It doesn´t have to be a big company. Most of all, we want it to inspire others and to have a good agenda, in which it does something extra, beyond what is required by legislation,” said Michal Kišša, pointing out that not every company is good in every area. If a member of the BLF falls behind in one area, other member companies try to motivate it towards improvement in that area.

Corporate responsibility is about us helping change the environment outside of Bratislava as well.

“Unfortunately, there still exists a big group of people for whom corporate social responsibility is not important because they have a basic problem ‒ to make their money last till the end of the month. These are mainly in the regions outside Bratislava, areas with socially marginalized groups, and so on,” Škodný said. According to him, corporate social responsibility is also about the fact that we should help change the environment outside the capital as well so that there would be one Slovakia and a big group of people who would understand why corporate social responsibility is important. The BLF’s aim is not to unite as many companies as possible, but to unite really responsible companies, and through various activities to raise public awareness about these topics. As Miroslav Šarišský from Slovenské elektrárne said, “Slovakia should be a place where you can run a business well, where new jobs are created, where the fundamental principles of the rule of law exist, and where there is good law enforcement and a low level of corruption.”

According to Šarišský, flourishing countries are the cleanest and the most foreseeable, and they have the best legislative processes. “It was right in the BLF that the Fund for a Transparent Slovakia was founded; companies joined together and agreed to help the organizations fighting in this area, such as Via Iuris, the Fair-Play Alliance, the Slovak Governance Institute, and so on. It was at the American Chamber of Commerce that the Rule of Law Initiative was founded, where companies prepared a set of recommendations for the government in which they declared what they wanted to be changed and how this should be changed. “To a certain extent, this pressure was effective because an action plan was approved, although not to the extent the companies envisioned it. However, the important thing is that there is a real dialogue between entrepreneurs and the government. Also, we have a right to demand the fulfilment of the commitments which they affirmed,” Šarišský explained.

In addition to the BLF director Michal Kišša and Peter Škodný, the Country Managing Director of the Slovak branch of Accenture and the BLF president, the following company representatives attended the Responsible Breakfast: Miroslav Šarišský (Slovenské elektrárne), Tatiana Svrčková (Slovak Telekom), Erika Turček Pfundtnerová and Richard Bendík (Kaufland Slovensko), Petra Kolberová and Daniela Simanová (Skanska SK), Mária Janočková (U.S. Steel Košice), and Jozef Kokoška (Accenture). Henrieta Kiššová from Deloitte was a special guest; she presented the results of the latest survey of CSR managers in Slovakia and Central Europe on corporate social responsibility and its future.

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