Unilever Bangladesh Ltd and Dhaka Bank Ltd won the Standard Chartered-Financial Express Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Award 2005 for their significant contributions to manufacturing and service sectors respectively.
President Iajuddin Ahmed formally handed over the CSR Award to the top executives of the two companies -- Sanjiv Mehta of Unilever and Shahed Noman of Dhaka Bank -- Wednesday in the city.
The Award Trust Chairman, Wahiduddin Mahmud, presided over the function, attended by top business leaders and dignitaries of the country.
Mahmud, a noted economist, also presented a CSR Crest to the President. The CSR award is the first of its kind in Bangladesh.
Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Standard Chartered Bank (StanChart) Osman Morad delivered the welcome address while Editor of The Financial Express (FE) Moazzem Hossain offered vote of thanks.
The Award has been launched to recognise the organisations in the corporate world that excel in CSR apart from their main line of business.
The Award Trust, comprising eminent educationists, editor, businessmen, has taken this initiative with the sponsorship of StanChart and the FE.
The application for the Award was invited on October 20, 2005. Six companies -- Aktel, Bank Asia, British American Tobacco Bangladesh Limited, Glaxo SmithKline Limited, Globaleq Bangladesh and Novartis Bangladesh Limited-- were the other contenders for this year's award.
Addressing the function, the President called upon the corporate houses of the country to project the country's interest first in consolidating further the gains already achieved in the areas of corporate governance as well as social responsibility.
"I call upon all to uphold country's interest first and think globally, act locally," Iajuddin said.
He said in Bangladesh, the regulatory agencies have incorporated many of the relevant issues into their respective operational framework and the process is still on.
"Thus, corporate bodies in the country are getting adaptive to compliance with such regulations day by day. It is also observed now that companies are making more disclosures to the stakeholders, board members are getting more rationalised, investors are getting more aware of their rights, managers are changing their attitude to develop professionalism in corporate management and more business concerns are coming forward to discharge their social responsibilities," he said.
"But still we have a long way ahead in our journey," he said.
The President lauded the role of StanChart and the FE for instituting the prestigious award.
"I firmly believe that the pioneering initiative of both the organisations to this effect would actively encourage the businesses in the country to adopt, implement and practise CSR," he said.
The President in his speech also said in today's competitive globalised economy, CSR has assumed a great deal of importance for all business enterprises. It enhances adoption of businesses management processes by companies to have an overall positive impact on society.
The President said there is no denying that the prime objective of companies or businesses has always been to maximise profits. But it is equally important to recognise here that successful businesses, in the overriding interests of their sustained growth, cannot relegate the interest of the society at large to the background.
Wahiduddin Mahmud said: "CSR is much more than corporate philanthropy. It also encompasses good business practice that helps to mitigate some of the sharper edges of a market economy."
Commenting on the responses the Trust received from the companies he said: "We were pleasantly surprised by the extent of response we got. Indeed, a large number of companies in Bangladesh are already engaged in CSR initiatives in a substantial way. We congratulate all the companies competed for this award."
Mahmud said the traditional mindset of 'business of business is business' needs to be changed.
"Companies worldwide are increasingly paying attention to incorporate CSR in their business approach by attempting to address social issues and by engaging in not-for-profit community welfare activities,'' he added.
Wahiduddin said a country like Bangladesh where there is a great deal of laxity in law enforcement, abiding by the law is a fundamental precondition for good, socially responsible, corporate practice.
Citing the examples of Enron, Microsoft and Wal-Mart, the noted economist said companies can be both loved and hated by the public depending on their trust-worthiness.
"Clearly, business strategists have to tread a thin wire between such love and hate relationships with society," he commented.
He said the CEOs of today's corporate world must recognise the need and potential of a social contract between business and society as stipulated in Rousseau's 'social contract' two centuries back.
Only by adopting such an implicit contract, society and business will be able to work in harmony.
Osman Morad said : We are indeed, fortunate that leading citizens representing business, academia and civil society at large have considered it worthy of joining our effort and consented to be Trustees."
The trustees undertook a rigorous evaluation of all entries for nominating the winners, he said.
Shahed Noman of Dhaka Bank said the bank utilises an amount equivalent to two per cent of its pre-tax profit to finance the bank's programmes on CSR.