• 01/05/2008

Valencia, the capital of international
solidarity

What differences are there between the American and European corporate volunteering movements? In the USA there is a stronger tradition than in Europe. Volunteering is commonplace there and the figure of the volunteer is more deeply rooted, which means that it has been a part of the business culture longer. In Europe, the culture is based more on social organisations, so the roots are different.

Nowadays it is easy for a company to claim it is committed to society. Is it possible to measure the degree of commitment? There are world standards for Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) such as the Global Compact, the GRI and the forthcoming ISO 26000 standard which will enable corporate social responsibility to be measured from 2010 onwards. In any case, such standards are just starting to appear. What I have been able to see for myself through a study of my own is that volunteer workers? involvement in the company increases by up to 20% compared to workers who are not volunteers.

In your presentation, you say that you believe CSR to be a business approach. What benefits are there for companies? Sustainability (stability) and competitiveness. Markets require flexible companies which can adapt. CSR provides the perfect opportunity to get to know the environment or the community in which the company is located. Businesses receive less distorted information, which leads to more flexible companies.

Interest in CSR seems to be on the increase. Why do you think that is? Until now, companies took into account their shareholders and, on occasions, their employees. Nowadays, other stakeholders such as the community, the environment, society and workers exert greater pressure on businesses. Companies are more receptive to the idea because CSR is a tool which allows them to strike up a dialogue with these stakeholders. The challenge now is to ensure that CSR plays a role in all companies, not just multinationals.

Forum Empresa is the largest forum on business and CSR in Latin America and a benchmark for the whole world. Where does Spain stand? Spain is a benchmark for Latin America. Here (in Spain) things happen which are then repeated, above all with regard to social issues. In terms of corporate volunteering, the main examples are programmes carried out by subsidiaries of Spanish companies such as Movistar, Endesa and Santander. These companies have set the standards to follow.

Do you think that volunteering should be professionalised? That is a subject currently under debate. Perhaps the leaders should, but only to a certain extent. It is not a good idea to professionalise it totally. The dynamics of volunteering has its ups and downs and is constantly changing. It is important to make way for new volunteers.

How has CSR evolved? It came about of its own accord during the early twentieth century. At first there were simply philanthropic instincts without any particular strategy and CSR as such did not exist. The second phase involved foreign influences which reached us through the subsidiaries of multinational companies. The concept of corporate volunteering then started to become a reality, although only among multinationals.

The third phase involved a period of development. CSR became more widespread and volunteers began to appear in national companies, mediumsized companies and even in some small businesses. CSR is currently undergoing a period of growth. In Chile, 45% of volunteers are involved in corporate volunteering.