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Why do GCC FM companies invest in CSR activities?

The UAE’s FM service providers and suppliers are united in their goals to improve the quality and benefits of their CSR activities

ANALYSIS, Facilities Management, Csr, Csr activities, CSR initiatives, FmME, Gcc

GCC countries have resumed their annual midday work break programmes for this year’s hottest months. In May, the UAE’s Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation (MOHRE) reinitiated the Midday Break Decree, preventing any sort of work under direct sunlight between 12:30pm and 3pm for a three-month period. Qatar has also implemented a similar work ban, starting 15 June this year and due to run until 31 August. The UAE’s 2016 midday break, which started on 15 June, is to be followed until 16 September.

Violators in the UAE will be fined $1,361 (AED5,000) for each person found working during break hours, and a maximum fine of up to $13,613 (AED50,000) could be levied if the case involves a large number of labourers.

For exceptional cases in the UAE where work cannot be paused due to technical reasons, MOHRE has launched a decree stating that employers must supply workers with all facilities that cater to their health while they are working under the sun.

These include first aid packages, air-conditioners, sunshades, and cold water.

MOHRE’s midday work scheme is aimed at ensuring the health and safety of workers in the UAE. The programme, now in its 12th year, continues to boost the country’s ecosystem of corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities.

Regional government initiatives such as MOHRE’s have also spurred FM service providers towards enhancing and implementing CSR schemes that match the GCC’s cultural and climatic requirements.

Evie Boustantzi, director of special projects for Al Shirawi ESG, and general manager for Al Shirawi Facilities Management and Al Shirawi Interiors, says various aspects of CSR have evolved in the region due to greater public sector involvement, especially in the UAE.

“By definition, CSR is all about conducting business in an ethical manner that aims to achieve sustainable development, not only in economic terms but also for the society and environment at large,” she tells fmME.

“For the Middle East, we may not be referring to this concept as ‘CSR’, but the underlying values are at the heart of the residents and an integral part of society. However, there seems to be disconnect between society’s culture of ‘giving back’ and companies making a concerted effort towards achieving that [ambition]. This needs to be in line with the broader strategy of the governments and their national development goals so that it is effective and most valuable.

“One thing is certain – increased communication and initiatives by the UAE government have heightened the sense of urgency and triggered a lot of relevant activity across the public and private sectors.”

Al Shirawi’s CSR activities include productivity incentives, ‘Star of the Month’ schemes, cultural and sports events, cinema nights, and festival celebrations. “When things are difficult, we offer emergency loans based on necessity, and recently helped hundreds who lost their homes in the Nepal earthquake,” Boustantzi says.

“We have an open door policy – we actively listen to our employees’ concerns and act on their suggestions. We maintain some of the best labour accommodation camps and ensure highest standards for them, which extends to transportation convenience by the way of short commute and air-conditioned buses.”

While cynics often regard CSR programmes as a ‘feel good’ initiative, Boustantzi says modern CSR plans encompass a range of measures and activities that lead to both, financial and reputational benefits. Not only do sound CSR activities achieve widespread societal benefits, they also improve a company’s overall profile among potential employees and customers.

Sandrine Le Biavant, director – consultancy at Farnek, outlines how these benefits are achieved through the CSR models that companies typically adopt.

“When CSR is practiced on a large financial scale and is embedded with the communication department, it is led more towards the reputational benefits,” she tells fmME.

“At the smaller scale, it is more a ‘feel good’ option. Energy and water management are definitely driven more towards financial benefits. In the hospitality industry, we tend to see that this is a natural way to contribute to society. We see in other industries that this leads to amazing team building and a ‘feel good’ value as well, since many employees truly want to contribute and make a difference. This inevitably builds a great reputation for a company.”

Farnek’s most recent CSR programme is the Solvatten Project, which comprises a portable water purifier with a solar water heater that provides energy efficiency and safe water for people living in parts of the developing world that are most vulnerable to climate change.

Nine Farnek employees from Sri Lanka, Uganda, and the Philippines were offered Solvatten to provide safer and cleaner water for their families back home. Others too were excited to learn that their families would not need gas or wood to heat or purify water, thus saving them money, Le Biavant says.

To date, more than 42,000 Solvatten systems are used daily by more than 200,000 people around the world.

“We decided to endorse Solvatten because it is portable and can hold ten litres of water, which can be purified in as little as two hours in direct sunlight,” Le Biavant explains. “It is made out of durable plastic, requires no batteries, chemicals or spare parts, and has an average life span of between seven to 10 years.

“This perfectly meets the needs of developing communities by improving their health and their economy with renewable energy that won’t damage their environment and it matches Farnek’s [goals] of embracing sustainable technology.”

In some cases, CSR activities may be viewed as an extension of a company’s branding and marketing efforts, and their impact on the firm’s reputation extends beyond financials. The CSR programme may also be considered a human resources (HR) management tool.

“CSR does have impact on repeat business and a company’s supply chain,” Emma Dicken, learning and development business partner at Lavendon Group, tells fmME.

Among Lavendon’s best known brands in the Middle East is Rapid Access, an equipment hire company with operations across the GCC. Rapid Access’s regional operations also comprise training courses for working at heights.

Dicken says implementing a CSR policy “helps in the goodwill of the company, which is good for our overall business”.

She adds: “Employees definitely appreciate that we are involved in community events. We have never had a shortage of volunteers and our employees appreciate the fact that we offer them opportunities to give back to the community.

“Obviously there is a ‘feel good’ element to our CSR work, but ultimately, it is about respecting the community and the environment around us. Working in this way not only helps our company’s brand as a supplier, but also as an employer while recruiting new talent. It has highly impacted our employee motivation, which in turn impacts our productivity.”

Rapid Access’s CSR programme include collaboration activities with local NGO, Volunteer in UAE (VIUAE). The company participated in VIUAE’s Karama Kanteen events last year, and also organised an outing to Dubai water park, Wild Wadi, for 40 children with special needs.

Additionally, the company conducted bake sales to raise money for orphanages in Saudi Arabia, and collected contributions for a Nepal Earthquake Relief fund, and clothes for labour camps affected during the rains in Dubai.

Clearly, CSR programmes are a critical component of regional FM companies’ business strategies. Farnek’s Le Biavant says CSR holds the key to a business’s long term growth, and deserves a front seat in overall organisational plans.

She concludes: “The genuine intentions of the CSR programme being developed need to be in line with the vision and the work of the company [so they can benefit] the community and the firm’s employees. Social engagement activities create a great level of team building and are greatly beneficial for staff retention.

“If individuals take part in committees, it also builds up their creative thinking, teamwork, project management, and presentation skills. To attract the best talents in the market, such programmes are an important criteria, as they are expected from most new recruits.”

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