Corporate Responsibility: Profile - The CSR Foundation

Joe Gill

The not-for-profit policy forum the CSR Foundation has recruited Ruth Owen, chief executive of the children's mobility charity Whizz-Kidz, to its advisory board. She is the first of a number of senior figures from the charity sector that the foundation, launched recently, hopes to recruit.

The foundation promotes ethical consumerism as a lever to influence corporate activities on issues such as moving jobs overseas and bullying at work.

"The foundation is a platform to harness consumer activism in terms of CSR, which has tended to be seen in PR terms only," says its director Lee Whitehill, formerly a trade union official with Amicus. "We believe consumers are not yet true stakeholders and we want to create a two-way dialogue with the corporate sector."

He says the foundation aims to highlight good practice and encourage consumers to vote with their wallets against companies that have poor CSR records on issues including the treatment of workforce, suppliers and communities: "We are creating space for people to do their thinking in public - a clearing house for ideas on issues that are, on the face of it, unsexy. For example, research shows that people do not like jobs going abroad, even though we are always being told it is good for us. We can put pressure on companies by threatening their brand and asking people to leave them alone."

Whitehill says the foundation, which relies on subscriptions from trade unions and campaign organisations, is working with companies that set good standards. He cites as examples Royal Mail and BT for its work on anti-bullying, and Nationwide Building Society, which announced last year that it would not be following the trend of moving its call centres abroad.

"We want to harness consumers to make sure they back with hard cash those companies that operate in an ethical way," Whitehill says.

The foundation is also researching a new ethical kitemark system for corporate social responsibility along the lines of the Investors in People training benchmark.

Overseas Development Secretary Hilary Benn was guest of honour at the foundation's inaugural meeting in December, where he said: "CSR is essentially about making sure that we treat everybody decently."

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