Although most Chinese firms claim to realize the importance of corporate social responsibility (CSR), very many of them fail to understand what it really means.
Tong Shumeng, assistant to the dean of Peking University's Market Economy Academy, made the warning as she introduced the findings of the China CSR Survey 2006 at Wednesday's CEO Roundtable.
The study, the first of its kind in China, surveyed attitudes towards CSR at 890 companies across China both State-owned, privately owned and multinationals.
Tong said the study found that "Chinese companies are aware of the importance of CSR and have taken action on the issue, but most of them have mistaken ideas about CSR."
Most companies equate CSR with charitable activites, pointed out Tong, but "obviously CSR means an awful lot more than just donations or charity."
Tong recently paid a business trip to Northwest China's Gansu Province, where she and her colleagues happened to see some executives from privately owned companies attending a charity event, holding up a board declaring how much money they had donated.
"But I didn't get any idea of who would distribute the money or where it would go, and I couldn't help wondering whether the money would be used in an improper way," she said.
Meanwhile, many small- and medium-sized companies do not think CSR should be their concern, mistakenly insisting that CSR is the business of bigger Chinese firms and multinationals.
Tong said that more than half of the small- and medium-sized firms surveyed thought CSR had little or nothing to do with their business development or strategy. Even worse, most companies, even including large ones, regard CSR as a burden.
Another mistaken idea is that they believe CSR is a distraction for Chinese firms, which they think should focus exclusively on building their business.
But "it is encouraging that there are some companies that really take CSR seriously and translate their words into deeds. There will be more of these," she said.
More and more Chinese companies have volunteered to partner in establishing non-governmental organizations (NGOs), aiming to tackle social problems.
Many firms have also started to issue annual corporate CSR studies, with State Power being the first Chinese company to launch a CSR report. Shanghai Pudong Development Bank was the first lender to do so.
Source: China Daily