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Tunisia: New Standards for Corporate Social Responsibility

The recently-founded Tunisian Chamber of Commerce organization Conect is in the process of developing a standard for corporate social responsibility in Tunisia.

According to Monia Essaidi, a founding member of Conect, the organization is working with a number of Tunisian companies - including insurance agency GAT, telecommunications company Tunisiana, and the AMEN Bank, as well as the three major Tunisian unions (UGTT, CGTT and UTT) - to set up a framework that will provide a benchmark for companies in Tunisia wishing to adhere to socially responsible practices.

"Corporate social responsibility is in no way a philanthropic endeavor" said Professor Olfa Zeribi of the IHEC Business School of Carthage, who attended Conect's two-day conference on the subject. Zeribi defined corporate social responsibility as a mechanism for companies to reduce costs, improve their public image, retain employees and increase workers' productivity.

A socially responsible company follows best practices and follows a set of values that create positive employer-employee relationships, as well as a positive working environment. The public also wants to buy, work, and partner with a company that has an ethical image, according to Zeribi.

Scientific laboratory equipment manufacturer Alexandra Knauer of Knauer Instruments runs a company of over 100 employees that has won awards in Germany for following the best practices of corporate social responsibility. Knauer came to present at the Conect conference to discuss the best practices that her company follows.

Knauer Instruments is "family friendly," and provides employees who have children with an onsite daycare center. Knauer gives employees who get married or have children a 315 Euro bonus to celebrate the special occasion. The company schedules meetings so that parents can work part time or from home - so that they can spend more time with their children. After a Knauer employee has a new baby, a two-month maternity leave is granted for both mothers and fathers. Employees have a large company garden to relax and gather together. Once a year, Knauer Instruments has an open-day where students who study science can explore the company and do work in the labs.

Knauer does not consider any of the benefits she gives her employees as a charity, rather it is a method for ensuring worker productivity and providing a long-term sustainable working environment to keep talent in her company.

While Tunisia does not have a developed structure for defining companies compliant with corporate social responsibility, Conect will be working in partnership with Giz of Germany as well as CGEM of Morocco, the association that has identified 40 Moroccan businesses that follow the values of corporate social responsibility, according to Essaidi.

One of the biggest barriers to developing the best practices of Corporate Social Responsibility in Tunisia will be to increase the formal sector. "The old regime of Zine El-Abddine Ben Ali encouraged most companies in Tunisia to be in the informal, or black-market, sector. They did not pay taxes, and the extended family of the President benefited from and encouraged the corrupt system. We hope we can encourage not just the large companies but also the small and medium enterprises in Tunisia to join the formal sector," said Essaidi.

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