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Friday | 03 September, 2010 | 3:42 am

Socially responsible business

By Lauren Duensing

September 2010- Corporate and social responsibility continues to be an area of high priority among businesses and consumers, with the movement toward greater corporate transparency expanding beyond specific companies or markets. Businesses from multiple U.S. industries, including metal manufacturing, are creating regulations to govern their practices.

Corporate responsibility involves companies creating practices and guidelines to monitor their business practices and standards. Many companies have implemented corporate-responsibility guidelines and share the information openly with clients, peers, shareholders and consumers.

Seventy-five percent of consumers say it is important for companies in different industries to be socially responsible, according to the Corporate Social Responsibility Perceptions Survey conducted by Penn Schoen Berland LLC, Washington, D.C.; Landor Associates, San Francisco, Calif.; and Burson-Marsteller, New York.

The survey also found companies can influence consumer's perceptions if they communicate effectively about their social-responsibility efforts. Of respondents, only 13 percent have read about a company's social-responsibility plans on its website, but 75 percent of those who have done so state it increased the likelihood that they would make a purchase from that company.

Additionally, Americans are holding companies accountable for a range of issues, including product quality, worker health and environmental concerns, according to a recent survey from Cone LLC, Boston. Specifically, 92 percent of survey respondents hold businesses accountable for product quality and safety, 92 percent for worker health and safety, and 84 percent for the reduction of energy use and emissions to combat climate change, according to the study.

"Companies need to combine strong social-responsibility programs with effective communication of what they are doing," Eric Biel, managing director for corporate responsibility at Burson-Marsteller, said in a press release. Consumers "expect companies to offer high-quality products at good prices and to explain how they treat their employees well, give back to their communities and respect the environment. Those companies that can clearly articulate how they advance these values to consumers can achieve real benefits for their brands and their overall reputation."

Industry effort
Although many companies in the metals industry do not interact directly with consumers, corporate responsibility remains important and can help a company grow internally and improve relationships with fellow businesses, stakeholders and clients.

"There is growing interest in the topic of corporate responsibility," says Heather Loebner, manager of corporate responsibility at ArcelorMittal Americas and executive director of the ArcelorMittal USA foundation.

ArcelorMittal USA recently released its first corporate-responsibility report, which gave an overview of the U.S. segment's accomplishments and challenges. ArcelorMittal, Luxembourg, has been releasing global corporate-responsibility reports for three years.

"We believe that corporate responsibility is intrinsically important to our organization," says Loebner. "It enhances the growth of our shareholder value. It improves our capability to work on very local and very global issues that impact our operations." It also improves relationships with stakeholders and helps the company attract, retain and motivate employees, she says.

The report outlines four pillars of corporate responsibility: investing in people, making steel more sustainable, enriching communities and transparent governance. ArcelorMittal increasingly sets targets for itself within the pillars and aims to be as clear and transparent in its actions as possible, says Loebner.

As part of its corporate-responsibility effort, ArcelorMittal representatives had more than 300 meetings with stakeholders in the United States in 2009 to better understand their expectations and shared priorities. In addition, the company has met with fellow businesses in the industry to discuss shared issues, including economic, diversity and sustainability concerns.

"As the world's leading steel company, we really look at this as setting the example," says Loebner. "Consumers already are very focused on these issues. In our industry, this is something that is still being implemented and conveyed."

The first step for companies interested in creating a corporate-responsibility report is to "start the process," says Loebner. "I know that seems simple, but we feel this is an evolving, living organism. We know we still have work to do. It's a beginning point, not an end point," she says. MM

The ArcelorMittal U.S. corporate-responsibility report is available here, and the global report is available here.

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