Friday, July 11, 2008

Responsibility and Sustainability (Part One)

Recently, a journalist approached me, wanting to know a little more about corporate social responsibility (CSR) and sustainability that was one of the main themes underlying the label. So in the interest of the public, I thought I'd pen a few thoughts here.

CSR and sustainability are issues that I still struggle with. I feel that if a business comes out declaring that there is a deliberate effort on their part to be sustainable, there is a certain kind of duty that comes along with. That obligation makes me a little uncomfortable sometimes, because there are so many areas in which I cannot personally vouch for.

For example, a significant number of my gemstones are purchased from India, and although I trust my suppliers' words that the working conditions of the factories are fine, there is no way for me to personally vouch for it. But I suppose the key word is "effort", and that while there are areas that are out of my control, the ones that i can do something about, I will.

So after some thought, I decided that one way in which I could meaningfully contribute to this area would be to donate partial proceeds of sales to a charity of my choice. Not any charity at random, but one whose cause I genuinely cared about and could personally vouch for. That the money donated to the organisation in question would be run efficiently and transparently, with almost 100% of the revenue sponsored would go to the cause in question, and not the running of the administration.

Given that I was already an active volunteer at the Scholarship Committee of the American Women's Club of Thailand, I was assured of the efficiency and transparency of the programme. What it essentially does is that it helps Thai girls with completing their high school education. This is because the last three years of high school becomes optional and many girls drop out during this time. This project is run entirely by volunteers, such that every single cent (save for a few dollars that goes to the bank and postage costs) goes to the girls. The women that run this programme don't get a penny. In fact, the volunteers fund all activities by themselves; among others, they go to the schools to ensure that everything is above board. These "spot-check audits" as they are called, as well as the corroboration of bank account details and receipts, can be a huge inconvenience, but they are necessary to ensure that the money goes where it's supposed to go.

So there it is. I'll be writing more about this topic in future, as it's something that I feel very strongly about. And in the meantime, if there is anything about the programme you'd like to know, feel free to contact me.

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