Starting a new business or looking to add something extra to your existing one? A corporate social responsibility policy might be just what you need.
A CSR can help your business step into the world of philanthropy and achieve genuine positive societal change.
While there are plenty of great CSR policy templates out there to download, there aren’t as many guides on how to create one, what to include and how to implement it. In this guide, we’ll cover just that and help all business owners, big and small, create a CSR policy.
What is a CSR policy?
A Corporate Social Responsibility policy (CSR) is designed to make sure a business acts ethically, considers human rights and is aware of the social, economic and environmental impacts of what they do — and acts on this.
Efforts that were once more voluntary and organised by individuals within a business structure are now more regularly a top-down initiative. Businesses want to be seen enacting positive change, and will often use CSR policies as a way to make a difference in the world and build their own brand while doing so.
A CSR policy is largely these efforts put into print.
What does a CSR policy affect?
Let’s look at how a CSR policy affects a business and what having one actually involves.
Responsible trading in the marketplace
CSR policies (particularly those of ecommerce stores) regularly include initiatives to ensure responsible trading and operations in the international marketplace.
This generally, in part, includes environmental and human rights efforts, which will be touched upon in later points.
Primarily, this is a matter of self-regulating trading efforts though — including monitoring where goods are purchased and sold from. Businesses and social enterprises will aim to purchase products and services from ethical suppliers and ensure they only supply equally ethical consumers (whether B2C or B2B).
This policy will also regularly include principles regarding how to treat your customers, such as:
- Respecting customer feedback and processes
- Supporting vulnerable customers (web design for the blind, considerate customer service)
- Seeking potential customers and partners from excluded groups
- Responsible management of supply chains.
Environment & carbon footprint reduction
Environmentalism and sustainability are two of the biggest topics and trends of the 21st century. Now more than ever, people are conscious of the impact they are personally having on the planet, and the businesses they work with and purchase from factor into that decision-making.
A good CSR policy, aware of both the genuine impact and PR potential it can have, will factor in environmental measures and efforts to reduce company carbon footprint.
This can take many different forms:
- Ensuring products are packaged and delivered in a sustainable manner
- Employees are encouraged to use public transport, share transportation or work from home to avoid using personal polluting vehicles
- Virtual meetings are held rather than in-person ones to avoid further pollution caused by national and international travel
- Offices are made more sustainable with machines regularly turned off to avoid unnecessary usage
On top of this, you can include efforts to inform and educate staff about the sustainability measures in your CSR policy, so that they can integrate it into their personal lives too.
Protecting employees: human rights & safety
As businesses continue to expand — and with this, the scope of clients and other suppliers they are working with worldwide — the potential for breaches of human rights and unethical behaviour concerning working conditions becomes greater.
This is why almost all CSR policies will include references to protecting human rights and ensuring employees are working in safe and free conditions.
In the UK, businesses are legally required to adhere to the terms of the Modern Slavery Act 2015, designed to protect workers from slavery-like conditions and ensure their human rights are being upheld. While adherence to this is generally a given, many businesses will outline their commitment to follow it and fight against breaches throughout their industry and supply chain.
Community work & volunteering
Despite living in a global economy and increasingly digital world, businesses still owe a debt to their local community.
CSR policies should always incorporate some level of support for their local areas and volunteering efforts — that not just support impoverished people and groups, but areas close to home that need it most.
A CSR policy can include volunteering efforts to try and lift people out of homelessness, or something closer to home, like refurbishing a local community centre or volunteering for a local charity.
Giving your time up to help the vulnerable is a noble effort and an essential part of any CSR policy that aims to get teams physically involved, rather than just sending off money to another charity or initiative.
The benefits of a CSR policy
A well-rounded CSR policy that is acted upon effectively can be a huge boost to a business of any size.
First and foremost, you’re doing good in the world. While that might not be your primary aim as a business (it’s profit that keeps you afloat after all), good deeds give you a moral currency that can boost internal operations and achieve absolutely essential brand building.
The work done in line with a CSR policy can help neutralise negative aspects of your brand and provide some ever essential positive PR. Charity work or a positive initiative can earn you valuable press coverage, give you great evergreen content for social media, and build your brand in the eyes of content makers and largest social enterprises who may want to work with you in the future.
Finally, following a policy creates a more inclusive and enjoyable workplace — one based on making a positive difference rather than one constantly focused on productivity. This creates a working environment that is not only more appealing to existing staff, but attractive to prospective applicants and clients.
How to write a CSR policy
Writing a corporate social responsibility policy that’s both relevant to your company and in-line with competing examples is part step-by-step process, and part tailoring it to your unique elements.
The points below are the building blocks of a great CSR policy, but an effective one must take into account your personal aims and capabilities. Don’t extend beyond your reach, but stay true to your core goals.
- Find what makes your company unique and build from there. Every company has a different culture and special people within it. How can your place in the industry and the passions of your employees be used to integrate yourself into a social aim or local community? Not everyone has to be the best or biggest donator.
- Engage your employees. Ask them for suggestions and use their thoughts to refine your CSR policy. This should be a company-wide effort, not a top-down approach.
- Examine the gold standard approach. You may not intend to be the leading light for your issues of choice, but your CSR policy could learn a lot from internationally recognised examples. Use them as the baseline for your policy and as a starting point for further research.
- Establish clear metrics. Having clear benchmarks and providing room for constant updates is a clear part of the writing process. It will help you actively report on outcomes and successes you’ve made.
- Include branding. A CSR policy is a crucial part of your overall brand strategy. It could be the difference between you and your competition. Make sure it’s clear this is your initiative.
How to implement your CSR policy?
So how do you actually put your CSR policy into action?
Your policies may be vague, your aims lofty and your workforce disconnected from the problem, but there are always ways you can implement your CSR policy effectively.
That vagueness might be the first hurdle you need to tackle. Refining your message to something focused, snappy and easy to understand will get more people enthusiastic about your CSR policy and actually make your aims seem both more powerful and achievable.
Involving your customers and clients can help spread your message and motives to new audiences. This enhances not just reputation but your ability to achieve your aims, as an expanded audience and customer participation can afford you new media opportunities and people with diverse skills. Finally, if you’re struggling to find a cause to get behind, considering polling your audience for the issues close to them.
By using social media you can directly inform your customers and clients (as well as the general public) as to how you are progressing. Multiple digital platforms, including blogs, can be used to reach new audiences and make your CSR policy a crucial digital marketing tool.
Finally, partnerships offer a brilliant way of reaching out to new audiences and making the aims of your CSR policy stick. While you may not have the tools to make a huge difference, a client or partner company may be able to assist you. Developing these relationships (whether as a sponsorship or not) is crucial for both marketing and material reasons.
CSR policy template
A CSR policy can come in many forms. As mentioned throughout this guide, your particularities as a business and social enterprise will define the shape it finally takes. However, a good template is always handy.
Here is a brief outline of what you need:
Begin the policy by acknowledging the challenges and detriments of your business and industry. Honesty is the best policy, and showing you understand the extent of a problem tells the reader you are better placed to start tackling it. Address who it affects and how, before going on to state your commitment to the policy as an organisation.
How you communicate your CSR policy is a crucial step in implementing it. Here you should outline how you intend to raise awareness about the negative impacts of your business, and what you’re doing to reduce them.
Your CSR principles
This section should include the principles of your CSR policy. This is the meat of your statements. Throughout you can address:
- Employee conduct
- Working environment
- Rights of workers
- Community commitments (both local and internationally)
- Commitment to law
- Commitment to minimising negative impacts of business
Finally, your policy needs to include details on who will take responsibility for reviewing your policy, ensuring all staff are aware of its contents and how effective it has been.
Good examples of CSR policies
Getting a CSR policy right is easier said than done, so here are a few of our favourites — ones that have resulted in substantial change — that you can learn from.
TOMS shoes are renowned worldwide for their commitment to sustainable products and charitable efforts. The very idea for TOMS may have been born out of a desire to help more vulnerable people, but their CSR goes above and beyond any fashion brand in the world.
At the centre of their efforts lies TOMS’ core goal: for every shoe sold they’ll send a new pair to a child in need.
This simple policy has helped a shoe company grow into a hugely socially responsible organisation, one that has now developed into involved in providing eyewear, safe drinkable water and essential birth equipment in areas that desperately needed it.
Everyone’s favourite kids block brand aren’t just a childhood staple, they’re also trying to make the world a better place.
The launch of the ‘Build the Change’ initiative marked a substantial move for the company, transforming it from one of the most high profile producers of plastic to a company focused on sustainability and promoting positive change.
Build the Change are a series of events held around the world that give children the place and platform to tackle challenges they face and are concerned about. This child-centric view allows LEGO to accomplish a few goals in one:
- Have a substantial impact on their own practices
- Raise awareness of key issues regarding child poverty and environmental damage
- Inspire and invigorate a generation of children
With each event having a theme around a local issue or positive goal, LEGO have managed to great a brand-consistent CSR policy that actively has an immediate impact.
It’s no surprise more than one clothing brand appears on this list.
The industry has come under heavy scrutiny in recent years as sustainability becomes an increasingly popular issue, and stories of neglected workers rights and pollution bubble to the surface.
That’s why it’s important to highlight the brands that are making a difference with their unique CSR policies.
Patagonia’s CSR focuses on keeping the environment healthy. They understand that as they grow as a brand, they need to produce more items, which ultimately requires sourcing materials from the earth. Rather than being a negative impact on the planet, they look to create a self-sustaining circle.
In short, they do this through more organic material sourcing and their Earth Tax climate change initiative, alongside efforts towards a sustainable living wage for people working in the factories that produce their clothing.
Whatever your business does and however small it is, it can make a genuine difference in the world.
While we’ve outlined what a CSR policy should functionally look like and include, in truth a successful one needs just as much of your personality and passion in it to thrive as anything else.
Work together as a business to craft something ambitious but achievable. A CSR policy is not a list of hopes and dreams, but something that should be actively worked on.