Last year Byblos declared pre-tax profits of $44 million, down from $50 million in 2000. Of that amount, $400,000 was spent on the bank’s education program. This is roughly equivalent to the average amount donated by similarly sized European companies.
Moreover, in Lebanon corporate donations are not tax-deductible as they are in Europe and the United States. Businesses and banks that do give, therefore, do not have any tax-back incentive to do so.
International bank HSBC, which recorded a loss last year, still donates an allocated amount whether profits are good or bad. It is far advanced
in its pursuit of CSR.
-We believe in giving back to the communities in which we live and work,” said Kevin Smorthwaite, CEO of HSBC in Lebanon. -All religious sects will benefit from our efforts.”
This year, HSBC is sponsoring a Train the Trainers program to train teachers of English in the North with a $20,000 donation. Last year it did the same in the South with a donation of $60,000.
Hala Beyhum, marketing manager at International Arab Bank in Beirut, whose regional pre-tax profit last year was $312 million, said they donate cash and also materials in the form of used computers to schools and nongovernmental organizations. She declined to give specific figures, but said it was hundreds of thousands of dollars.
-We give to lots of people
for charitable purposes and we established the Abdel Hamid Shoman Association, based in Jordan, in 1978 to promote development and education of people in the fields of science and humanities,” Beyhum said.
-But our policy is to give money the traditional Arab way, silently and with a clear conscience, not for publicity,” she added.
Beyhum would say, however, that of the last year’s profits Arab Bank gave 2 percent in donations and equipment. Many other financial institutions gave similar reasons for not disclosing their charitable donations.
Most would not even list the NGOs or charities to whom they give, for fear of attracting too many requests for aid and arguments over why they favor one cause and not another.
Beyhum insisted, however, that Arab Bank has no policy of donating to a particular community in Lebanon.
-We do not give purely on sectarian grounds,” she said.
Lubna Forzely, business-community relations specialist at the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), who has interviewed 30 companies about CSR, said the companies’ desire for anonymity didn’t mean that they weren’t giving.
-Of the 30 companies I have spoken extensively with, 85 percent are doing more than their fair share of giving to good causes. Some are sponsoring sick children and others give to the UN educational program,” Forzely said.
But some companies are wise to the marketing potential of their initiatives, and have signed on to well-publicized philanthropic projects.
Four major local companies have linked up with Forzley’s UNDP Enhancing Business Community Relations project.
One is FTML-Cellis, the mobile telephone network.
-We spend $700,000 per year on social development, which is part of CSR, through our Generations program for childhood protection, begun in August 2000,” Patrick Eid, technical manager at Cellis said.
The Generations project supports nonconfessional associations and local NGOs by giving support and education for children who are abandoned, abused or exploited at work.
-We have a structural volunteer program where 10 percent of our employees spend time working on different community projects,” Eid said. -We are committed to actively protecting the environment and minimizing practices that might negatively impact our land’s resources for future generations.”
The local restaurant chain Schtroumpf is also a veteran of community-development initiatives. Over the last three years, the company has actively raised awareness of environmental issues including implementing its Go Green environmental forum on sustainable development.
Omar Sakr, Schtroumpf’s environmental manager said, -We firmly believe that doing business should never be restricted to making profits.”
The company will donate $11,000 in awards for environmentally friendly competitions for Lebanese students this year.
Despite the existence of detractors of CSR Ã?? many business leaders told The Daily Star that they still believe in the old adage, -the business of business is business” and view corporate social responsibility with skepticism, or worse, as socialism by the back door Ã?? it is becoming increasingly clear to many companies that CSR is vital to the profitability of their business and their positive image within the community.