Susana Vigaray is Assistant General Counsel at Sitel, and has been recently appointed as Global Corporate Social Responsibility Director. In this exclusive interview with Nidhi Singh, Executive Editor, CSRlive.in, Susana shares how Sitel is working to help vulnerable groups in India. She also shares the journey of embracing the UN Global Compact principles and extending it to Sitel’s worldwide operations. Cautious about commenting on the implications of India’s 2 year old CSR law, as it is still too early, she emphasises the need to embed the essence of CSR in a Company’s DNA.
What is your view of India’s mandatory 2% CSR law? Do you think other countries should follow suit?
India became the first country to require companies of a certain turnover and profitability to spend two percent of their average net profit in the past three years on CSR. We are all aware that India faces enormous development challenges and that the only way of addressing them is by the common effort of governments, civil society and corporations. But from my point of view, CSR should not be the result of a regulatory obligation. Even if big corporations were already handling CSR through their non-profit organizations, for midsize companies it might take some time to embed the essence of CSR in their DNA. They need to avoid the ‘tick box’ mentality and instead transform their corporate behaviors. In any case, I think it will still take a couple more years to draw any conclusions from this pioneer CSR law, and see if it is actually delivering positive results.
What are the main pillars of Sitel’s global CSR strategy and what are the key initiatives being planned and implemented in India?
It might sound like a topic, but Sitel’s CSR is based on four well defined pillars. The first pillar is Associates: Sitel engages and motivates its employees by looking at issues such as work-life balance, employee health and wellbeing and diversity and inclusion. The second pillar is Environment: we try to manage Sitel’s impact on the environment through sound environmental practices and decisions. The third pillar is Community: Sitel supports social transformation by developing strategic partnerships in the communities to make a positive impact on society, while engaging employees in causes they find meaningful. And last but not least, the fourth pillar is Business Ethics: Sitel cultivates an ethical corporate culture by defining proper business policies and practices regarding potentially controversial issues that might arise in a business environment, such as corporate governance, bribery or discrimination.
As for how we make this happen, our HR department is leading the Sitel’s Footprints program, in which Sitel helps vulnerable groups to contribute to and feel an important part of their local communities. For Sitel India, this means engaging our associates in their community activities by facilitating school supply donations to disadvantaged children or creating partnerships with nonprofit organizations such as the Indian Development Foundation (IDF), where our volunteer associates conduct sessions at local schools to develop management skills and leadership qualities for underprivileged students.
Sitel has recently embraced the principles of the UN Global Compact as part of its endeavor of being a socially responsible business in the 21 countries and 100+ communities where it operates. How do you see the journey ahead in terms of implementation of these principles?
The Global Compact initiative is not new to Sitel. Our Spanish operation has been a signatory since the beginning of 2013, and last year we decided to extend our participation worldwide in order to reinforce our social and environmental commitments. Being a company with global presence and operating in more than 20 countries, we faced the challenge of taking into consideration, not only the cultural differences, but also the local laws and regulations. So before adhering at a corporate level to the Global Compact, we had first to define a common framework that would accommodate the different local requirements. Sitel will disclose its level of implementation through the annual Communication on Progress (COP) that has to be filed in the Global Compact web page (www.unglobalcompact.org) and we have in each country what we call CSR Leads, who help us implement the program locally.
Many reports point out that Companies with CSR initiatives also attract the best young talent because Millennials value social investment. What has your experience been while recruiting talent for Sitel from around the world?
You are absolutely right. Millennials consider a company’s social and environmental commitments before making important decisions. Cone Communications (a US based public relations and marketing agency) released in September 2015 the Millennial CSR Study which revealed that 62% of the Millennials would choose to work for a socially responsible company, even if the salary would be less than at other companies, 6% above the US average. And our associates agree completely with this statement. In Sitel’s 2015 annual associate engagement survey, we found that “how we contribute to the community” was a key driver of our employee Net Promoter Score. But to be more precise, in Sitel Portugal, for example, we have to recruit native speakers from different European countries. In some cases, we have to go to the country of origin to find the right profiles, and the people more willing to reallocate are Millennials. One of the reasons they claim for choosing to work with us (besides the climate, of course) is our People First culture, and how we help them become part of the Sitel Family and make them feel valued and recognized. We also have good word-of-mouth recommendations from our current employees who recommend Sitel to their friends and family. It’s very satisfying for us to see that our employees not only enjoy coming to work, but also would like their friends to have the same positive experience.
Some International CSR Experts believe that there has been a tidal wave of transparency and great value is now being ascribed to ‘putting everything out there’. Others say that transparency raises the bar for CSR. Would you agree?
Corporations are no longer able to hide unethical practices from society. They are being challenged to be more transparent in all aspects. Companies are being required by governments, regulatory bodies and stakeholders to disclose information other than their financial performance, and that’s a positive thing. Transparency helps companies to build trust from stakeholders. And I’m not talking only of big public companies.
Transparency raises awareness and accountability on CSR and creates a positive brand image. Open reporting on the negative impact of their businesses forces companies to take responsibility for their own actions and allows the public to monitor how effectively they are addressing a given issue. Transparency should allow us to tell the difference between a company with good practices and a company with only good marketing.