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Turkish society, which has a distinctly statist orientation but is also strongly influenced by family and group ties, attaches only secondary importance to the relatively new topic of corporate social responsibility (CSR), although this is gradually changing. Companies’ charitable efforts, sponsorships and donations are generally confused with CSR or seen as roughly the same thing.
However, more is being expected of companies, particularly in the past few years. The prospect of membership in the European Union and the reforms carried out as part of the harmonization process have had a positive effect on laws governing Turkish associations and foundations, and especially nongovernmental organizations. Favorable economic developments in recent years, such as single-digit inflation rates and impressive growth, have allowed Turkish companies to become more involved in the social realm. Pressure from international customers has led Turkish companies to concentrate their CSR efforts in the areas of environmental protection and social standards. Export-based industry, particularly Turkey’s textile sector, is seeking to become more competitive by investing heavily in modernization, but also by carrying out a variety of CSR activities.
A survey conducted in 2007 by the business magazine “Capital Business” showed that society expects entrepreneurs to play an active role, particularly in education, health and environmental issues. It is striking that most CSR efforts by Turkish companies, and by multinational companies in Turkey, are found in the areas of society, education, culture, the arts, the environment, social welfare and health. The public discussion of corporate responsibility in Turkey is shaped primarily by the media – which, for their part, are in an unusual situation, since publications are owned by consortiums with interests in other economic sectors (construction, energy, banking, etc.) and/or have a specific ideological slant (secular/Kemalist vs. religious/state-affiliated media).
Turkey has not yet established a central coordinating office or information agency to assist companies in their social efforts. The topic of CSR is handled by the respective ministries.
In 2003, the Capital Markets Board of Turkey (CMB), which regulates the country’s capital markets, introduced guidelines for the country’s financial sector, based on the OECD Principles of Corporate Governance, which might be described as the first quasi-legal framework for CSR. Participation is voluntary, but companies that opt out are required to explain why in their annual reports.
Nongovernmental organizations that are active in the economic sector, such as the Turkish Union of Chambers and Stock Exchanges (TOBB) and the Turkish Industrialists’ and Businessmen’s Association (TÜSIAD), conduct various projects, issue regular reports and studies, and hold events aimed at encouraging Turkish companies to become involved in policy issues. In addition to influencing the political process, these two NGOs also assist their members in their civic engagement. The Business Council for Sustainable Development Turkey (www.tbcsd.org) and the CSR Association in Turkey (www.csrturkey.org), founded in 2005, are the only associations devoted exclusively to issues of corporate social responsibility. The Turkish Ethical Values Center Foundation (www.tedmer.org.tr), the Private Sector Volunteers Association (www.osgd.org) and the Third Sector Foundation of Turkey (www.tusev.org.tr) play an important role in promoting CSR and act as a bridge for dialogue between companies and society at large.
The Turkish Quality Association (KalDer) is a leader in establishing standards for efficient, competitive and high-quality production. It awards a national prize for quality each year, and one of the selection criteria is a company’s commitment to CSR. KalDer joined the UN Global Compact in 2002, and since that time it has sought to spread the word among Turkish companies.
Most nongovernmental organizations, however, are hardly in a position to organize effective campaigns because of their financial dependence on their supporters. The national branches of major international NGOs are the only such organizations that may play a major role, and they are frequently accused of collaborating with Turkey’s international “enemies” and using their work to promote human, labor and social rights as a pretext for “crushing” the country.
Under the UN Global Compact Initiative, UNDP Turkey plays an important role in promoting CSR. With the support of the European Commission and UNDP, the first comprehensive study of CSR in Turkey was drawn up in March 2008 (Turkey CSR Baseline Report). Also noteworthy are the efforts of the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Enterprise and Industry, which has drawn the attention of Turkish small and medium-sized enterprises to the topic of CSR by undertaking extensive educational campaigns and providing documentation in the Turkish language.
As pioneers in this area, German companies have long shown a high level of social engagement and responsibility in Turkey. In 2005 and 2006, GTZ formed a public-private partnership (PPP) with Turkish nongovernmental organizations and government authorities to implement a CSR project called “Introducing a Uniform Model for Improving Social Standards,” which focused on the textile and clothing industries.
From the private side, the project was supported by the Retailers’ Foreign Trade Association (AVE) as well as by the personal efforts of the owner of the Otto mail order company. The “Round Table - Social Standards” initiative, which is part of the PPP, was established to improve social standards in eleven countries, including Turkey. The goal is to achieve a better balance between economic and social development in developing and countries in transition (and their companies).
The program benefits the textile and clothing industries as well as manufacturers of sporting goods and toys. These companies have a vested interest in maintaining certain standards in manufacturing their products, since they take advantage of relevant awards or memberships (for example in the Business and Social Compliance Initiative) as a way of appealing to consumers. The circumstances under which products were produced (child labor, environmentally friendly conditions, fair trade) are a factor for many consumers in Germany and other industrialized countries as they make their purchasing decisions.
Under this initiative, Turkish (supplier) companies voluntarily abide by certain standards in their operations. The initiative’s aim is to improve working conditions, guided by the core labor standards. Particular criticism has been leveled against Turkish management practices, companies’ failure to respect certain work hours and the lack of compensatory payments. It has also been noted that the initial audit carried out in Turkish companies is often just as negative as in the Far East. Subsequent audits, however, have shown much more positive results. As a rule, failure to comply with standards has not led to the termination of business ties between German/European and Turkish companies, but instead to efforts to help Turkish companies meet those standards.