Doing it right: CSR as part of your core business

Our understanding of corporate social responsibility (CSR) is seeing business corporations take social responsibility, for example in protecting the environment and helping the poor and disabled.However, many companies view social responsibility as charity activities and similar projects. These activities and projects are often conducted like a pulse – one time activity with no follow-up. It is difficult to have sustainable impact this way.
Here is one story that exemplifies this.A school in a remote and poor village in the west of China was donated over 1 million yuan by various corporations in order to build many new facilities.   However, no efforts or focus is given to the maintenance over time of these projects so after a while they start deteriorating.Many companies swarm to remote areas, donating money to build schools, seeing it as a branding move. Yet they very rarely consider the long-run considerations, or the real needs of the recipients and the sustainability of their activities.

I ponder over a question frequently. Does CSR equate with doing charity? At last, I found the answer at Alfmeier.

We met Mr. Markus Schwarz, Executive Vice President of Alfmeier Automotive Systems Shanghai, in 2017. Mr. Schwarz was given a tour of our company Inclusion Factory, where he saw more than 30 employees with intellectual disabilities working on processing products in a special workshop. He decided to embark on a CSR partnership with us and outsourced orders to the Inclusion Factory.

Mr. Schwarz then gathered the management team of his company, and they agreed to outsource a certain component in their product for car seats to the Inclusion Factory, so as to support the employment of persons with disabilities.
Due to the special needs of our employees, the manufacturing equipment has to be somewhat automated in order to ensure a smooth and high-efficiency production. For this, Alfmeier formed an international team and provided us with a modified assembly equipment is suitable for our capabilities, and ensures and quality performance.
The team, which was comprised of project managers, internal auditor, and senior quality engineers, were all fully engaged and highly motivated.  With the help of their headquarters in Germany, the team finished the design for the machine provided to us, and shipped it specially from Europe for our new cooperation!  The team members worked together, and overcame the challenges of being in different locations and different time zones. Finally, the equipment was put into operation at the Inclusion Factory in February 2019.
That is why, to me, CSR is neither a checklist of activities nor a set of guidelines. It is most definitely not something that corporations have to accomplish by sacrificing themselves. Rather, CSR is a corporation using its core capabilities to resolve social problems and give everyone the ability to create social values.Many ask, “Should corporations have projects for social responsibility?” In the past, I would show the person asking this question the numerous benefits of fulfilling CSR, but now I answer them with my question, “Do corporations need the human resource and finance departments?”And as corporations surely need human resource and finance, so does CSR should be a part of their daily operations. In fact, CSR is not as complicated as many people would think. We should look at the core capability of a company and see how it can be used to solve the problems in society. Solving a society’s problems is being socially responsible.

Alfmeier Automotive Systems Shanghai was awarded the Taicang Inclusion Factory  Corporate Social Responsibility prize

On the left, Mr. Markus Schwarz, Executive Vice President of Alfmeier Automotive Systems Shanghai – receiving the Inclusion Factory Gold Partner certificate from the Inclusion Factory Chairman of the Board Mr. Thilo Koeppe and Peng Xin, the Inclusion Factory employee working on the Alfmeier project

Alfmeier has now established “social responsibility” as one of its strategies and has committed to engage in more CSR projects in the future.Alfmeier CSR engagement shows us that CSR can and should be part of every corporation daily work and commitments.