Corporate social responsibility begins with employees

by Nico Roesler
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Clif Bar & Company CEO Kevin Cleary (left) rakes up mulch with employees at a community garden during its annual all-employee community volunteer days.

A community is built by the people living in it; many companies recognize that. To create a culture of corporate social responsibility (C.S.R.) and community, employees must be encouraged to get involved.

The most recent “Global Corporate Sustainability Report” by Nielson indicated that 81% of millennials expect their favorite brands to make public declarations of corporate citizenship. That can mean sustainable practices or exceptional treatment of their employees and the people they do business with.

Grupo Bimbo S.A.B. de C.V., Mexico City, has a massive C.S.R. program that invests in the social welfare of its employees. It provides free educational services to help employees complete high school and offers supplementary medical care and financial assistance for dependents’ care. It also has a microfinance program to help its smaller retailers manage working capital shortages and pay for small capital improvements. Investing in Bimbo’s workforce increases morale, efficiency and effectiveness and improves performance and retention while strengthening the company’s distribution chain, the company said.

At the baseline, a manufacturing facility cannot risk the safety of workers, said Thao Pham, vice-president of community and executive director of the Clif Bar Family Foundation. The next generation of C.S.R. is focusing on how a company can improve people’s well-being. Clif Bar & Company kept that in mind when designing its bakery in Twin Falls, Idaho. In addition to providing a $15 minimum wage, the bakery designed its facility with a host of elements to create a pleasant work environment unique for manufacturing. Features include a fitness center with personal trainers, a private room for nursing moms, an onsite community garden and biophilic design elements that include large windows and skylights throughout the entire space. Biophilic design is an architectural approach mimicking nature and natural elements within the building’s environment.

“A company’s employees are its greatest asset to communicating its C.S.R. successes and efforts,” Ms. Pham said. “They are your most compelling and authentic C.S.R. ambassadors.”

She added that articulating a company’s social conscience is key, but employees who champion that strategy are just as important. 

Clif has helped 274 employees buy electric, hybrid or biodiesel-fueled vehicles through its Cool Commute program, which provides a $6,500 cash incentive toward the purchase price of the vehicle.

“Employees become the conduit to amplify your messages and values,” Ms. Pham said. “Not only do they live the mission and values every day, but they also become the litmus test for your brand both internally and with the public. Engaged employees who communicate passionately with stakeholders and consumers about your organization’s values speak volumes for the authenticity of your company.”
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