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Lebanon lags behind MENA in corporate social responsibility
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BEIRUT: Lebanon’s government still lags behind many of its regional peers in promoting corporate social responsibility, despite successful initiatives by the private sector and civil society groups, said CSR experts who gathered Monday in Beirut.

Thirty international, regional and local experts participated in the opening of a two-day networking event entitled “Corporate Social Responsibility in Times of Uncertainty” at the Phoenicia InterContinental Hotel.

“The state is the weakest link in the network and lacks any active involvement,” MP Ghassan Mukheiber told participants during a panel on the role of the government in the promotion of responsible business and investment in high-risk areas.

Ziad Hayek, secretary-general of Lebanon’s Higher Council for Privatization, said the government’s role is to provide incentives aimed at encouraging responsible business and environmental practices by the private sector.

“There are no short-term solutions. The government should draft a long-term policy to promote transparency and fight corruption while providing incentives to promote CSR and encourage firms to endorse voluntarily,” Hayek said.

The forum, in its third edition, was organized by CSR Lebanon, an independent consulting firm, which was recently officially appointed Lebanon’s focal point-of-contact for the United Nations Global Contact.

Through its partnership with UNGC, CSR Lebanon seeks to establish by 2014 a robust governance structure for the Global Compact Local Network in Lebanon to promote responsible business practices and transparent CSR reporting, according to CSR Lebanon founder Khaled Kassar.

UNGC executive director Georg Kell urged business leaders and officials to cooperate with young entrepreneurs to lay the foundations for a local network that promotes responsible business practices.

Though some Lebanese corporations undertook promising CSR initiatives over the past few years, they stumbled over bureaucratic and regulatory obstacles as the government failed to meet them halfway.

Cimenterie Nationale, a leading Lebanese cement producer is one of several cases.

While cement production is approximately behind 5 percent of global manmade carbon dioxide emissions, demand for cement is forecast to increase significantly over the coming few years, particularly in emerging economies, according to Pierre Doumet, CEO of Cimenterie Nationale.

To reduce the CO2 footprint of cement production, developed economies have encouraged the use of alternative fuels in the cement industry among other actions, Doumet added. The German cement industry, for example, uses alternative fuel at a 61 percent substitution rate.

Doumet said his company proposed to build a plant to process collected municipal solid waste, which is dumped in landfills, as fuel for cement plants but has yet to obtain government approval, which asked for more time to study the proposal.

Complying with international CSR standards could also help Lebanese exporters enter new markets, Global Reporting Initiative deputy chief executive Teresa Fogelber said.

The Chilean wine industry, which resembles much its Lebanese counterpart in terms of climate conditions, crop and product quality, has expanded its export market by complying with international standards of CSR reporting and Lebanon could follow suit, Fogelber said .

Central Bank of Lebanon deputy governor Saad Andari said the bank was supporting CSR by providing subsidized loans intended to finance environment-friendly projects such as green architecture projects, renewable energy, ecotourism, organic agriculture and recycling.

Fransabank chairman and head of the Union of the Arab Chambers of Commerce Adnan Kassar, who was granted an honorary award for his role in promoting CSR in Lebanon, said the business community and the U.N. shared the same goals of peace and sustainability that lead to prosperity and wealth creation.

A professional workshop on CSR strategies and reporting entitled Green Cafe will take place on the second day of the forum.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 19, 2013, on page 5.
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