(By Adebiyi Adeyemi)
The array of these eye-sore scenarios has prompted me to ask myself why this same people opine that only the big organisations owe the society some sense of decorum and environmental decency in going about their jobs. I have tried to find an excuse for them; could it be due to ignorance? Sadly, I have since found out that this is, more or less, a display of illiteracy and a deliberate act of carelessness with no iota of consideration for the environment or other persons in the vicinity.

EVERY time I walk through the streets or drive on our roads, I feel perturbed at the sight of so many ill-social and environmental decadent actions often carried  out remorselessly by most Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) as they go about their business activities; from a canteen waitress disposing the debris and kitchen waste water on the road outside her outlet, to a colony of  mechanics  leaking the black oil of most vehicles on the bare floor of their workshops,  to a generator repairer spilling petrol carelessly on the floor in an attempt to cleanse some mechanical component, to shops owners throwing wastes into the drainages and canals and so on.

    In the same vein, along the corridor of multinational corporations and blue chip companies— that are often tagged with Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) — are numerous Micro, SMEs who have refused to see themselves as corporate entities worthy of giving back to the society in which they do their businesses daily. Rather, they add to the negativity in the society in their own ‘small’ ways. Perhaps, this is due to the malapropos or lack of good education on the subject matter of CSR or because Micro, SMEs have chosen to be on one side of the coin where they can afford to be socially irresponsible, leaving the other side of the coin to the ‘big’ companies like oil multinationals, banking, telecommunication etcetera whom they deem fit to bear the social cost in place of them – quite whimsical! The question is when did CSR become the yardstick between businesses categorised as Micro, SMEs and those of large scale enterprise?

   In corollary, it can be said that the ideology behind the incessant sidelining of corporate social responsibility to the multinational or large corporations alone in Nigeria is owed to a gross act of corporate social irresponsibility and a lucid display of corporate indolence which has been spaciously roomed by the supposed legislative arm of the Corporate Affairs Commission in its policy making and action driving.

   While there have been various perspectives, however, debatable as to what the concept of CSR ordinarily and originally connotes in the scope of an organization’s culture when viewed under the panorama of its social responsibility, the idea behind the etymology of CSR affords us the most accurate and fundamental understanding of what it stands for. CSR is about having and showing ethos and values as a company which is often exhibited by corporate emotive actions.

   Consequently, it has been impossible to reach an absolute definition for the term CSR because what it resonates might appear vague, especially for those who can’t read between the lines. Much more, CSR is best viewed under the principle of relativity. That is, what is termed CSR to organisation ‘A’ may not necessarily be the same for organisation ‘B’ depending on their status when examined under various managerial lights and the binding policies. For short, it is not the descriptive knowledge of the meaning of CSR that is in the best enabling position to extract the real substance of the concept into our hands and fingertips but the knowledge of what it stands-for will definitely afford us a better gateway to penetrate into the crux of the concept.

   Consonantly, it is posited under the stakeholder theory of CSR that the onus falls on organisations to consider, on a holistic horizon, the impact of the business in which they conduct it and its heralding operation or activities as it concerns all stakeholders—prompting the organisations to extend their corporate values voluntarily or statutorily to the society often; economically, legally, ethically or morally and philanthropically. Howbeit, this could still take various dimensions.

   Referentially, I choose to see CSR as an ethical tax that must be paid to the society by all business enterprises, however, corporate or non-corporate, micro, small scale or large scale, for a peaceful working environment. This is synonymous to our business doctrine of paying other forms of taxes like income tax, profit tax, probate tax, revenue tax and what-have-you to various governing bodies which warrants us the right to do our business without any governmental and council interference. CSR is the moral or ethical due an enterprise pays which justifies the business ‘licence’ and permits for an enterprise to operate in the society or community where it is situated.

   In furtherance, CSR is a key element in the ecosystem of a business enterprise or organisation cycle. CSR plays an eminent role in the survival and sustenance of the organism of a business. It contributes to the enzymes that stimulate the necessary hormones for an invigorating growth and continuity in the circumference of the business biome.

    However, perhaps the word ‘corporate’ in CSR has been the cause for the restrictive understanding of the underlying essential implication of the concept, therefore affecting people’s attitude towards its acceptance and effectuation. That is, many people have chosen to stick to the opium that a corporate entity is always an elaborate organisation, often having numerous branches locally and internationally, characterised by a huge edificial structure and having its headquarters in the heart of the high-eyebrow Central Business District (CBD) in a country.  Quite fallacious!!

    Thus, for the sake of crosschecking this misconception; it ought to be borne in the corners of our minds that the word ‘corporate’ in the School of Business Studies, is a term given to most business enterprises chartered by a state and given many legal rights as an entity isolated from its owners. As such, it is the paper works and the paparazzi of protocols that have, perhaps, ‘misleadingly’ decorated the entity of word ‘corporate’, giving it a misinterpreted, elaborated, and exaggerated appeal by most people who don’t bother to look at the context critically.

    Correspondingly, it is held that Micro, SMEs account for over 90 per cent of Nigeria’s businesses. It should be noted that many of these varying enterprises do not see themselves as a corporate business body and as such, have ruled out the actions geared towards the filing of necessary papers and protocols that qualifies them as a corporate entity, according to the statues of the federation. Some common examples of these Micro, SMEs are, canteens or restaurants, shops, complexes and plazas that we use for our offices, relaxation joints, hotel, brothels,  kiosks, sales outlets and a host of other sited places we dress up to go daily in order to  make our ends meet.

    Ergo, the lack of participation in CSR by most of these exemplify Micro, SMEs because of the simple limiting fact that some enterprises do not press for the due legislative registration that legally tags them as corporate entity according to the governing statues is not enough excuse. The self-exemption from CSR is condemnable with no justification. However, what is much more inapposite is the failure of a few who actually participate in social responsibility but rather see their actions as less tantamount to CSR because of their lack of in-depth understanding about the theme.

   More so, the performance of CSR by organisation can take different forms and twists, colours and tones. How do I mean? CSR can be quite comprehensive and tangible, or on the contrary, quite simple and intangible. That is, we refer to say from the monumental donation in cash and kind to emptying our waste water or black oil appropriately, not constituting nuisance and following a mode of work operation that is pro-social and least harmful to the environment. Therefore, keeping up in CSR duties can be cheap following an innovative approach of ‘cutting your coat according to your cloth’ in an organisational sense.

    The generalised idea that CSR is always an expensive function should be aborted. CSR is not always an exhaustive and expensive activity as purported in people’s minds. The determining factor of CSR is simple but the tough logic behind the concept may appear complex to some. On the one hand, the logic behind CSR is that business cannot afford to be an island of abundance in an ocean of abject poverty. On the other hand, the rule for the justification of CSR is that a business enterprise owes, to some degree based on relativity, the vicinity in which its business is sited. It is something of the environmental, humanitarian and intangible social infrastructure. Issues of peace, serenity, friendliness, the vicinity and the dwellers or indigenes are involved as well—how these have afforded enterprise space to conduct its business without disturbance or threat.

    We should not be blindfolded by or dissuaded from this responsibility because of the ‘pompous’ sound of the concept or the costly humour it seems to resonate. CSR is loaded with many advantages; hence, we would be grossly missing out from the bountiful benefits it harbours if it is neglected. The concept of CSR must not be regarded as an externality but should be interposed and integrated into every element of the business because in order to grow and be continually successful in the business environment, Micro, SMEs have to engage corporate social responsibility in their strategic decisions.

• Adeyemi, a University of Lagos graduate, has just completed his youth service. 

The YOUTHSPEAK Column which is published daily, on weekdays, on the back cover of THE GUARDIAN Newspaper, is powered by RISE NETWORKS, Nigeria’s Leading Youth and Education Development Social Enterprise, as a substantial advocacy platform available for ALL Nigerian Youth to engage Leadership at all levels, engage Society and contribute to National Discourse on diverse issues especially those that are peculiar to Nigeria.

Regarding submission of articles, we welcome writers’ contributions by way of well crafted, analytical and thought provoking opinion editorials that are concise, topical and non-defamatory! All Articles [which are not expected to be more than 1000 words] should be sent to editorial@risenetworks.org.

To read the online Version of this same article plus past publications and to find out more about Youth Speak, please click www.risenetworks.org/youthspeak and join the ongoing National Conversations.

“Opinion pieces of this sort published on RISE Networks are those of the original authors and do not in anyway represent the thoughts, beliefs and ideas of RISE Networks.”