Voices from our partners: Professor Dynah Basuil Executive Director, Ramon V. Del Rosario Sr. Center for Corporate Responsibility

"The Philippines is a young country. And we have a lot of purpose-driven young people, more vocal about their aspirations and their expectations of how companies need to become more responsible towards their impacts on society"

Article | 28 March 2022
After completing a degree in Business Administration at the University of the Philippines, Dynah Basuil went abroad to complete two master's degrees and a PhD in Management in the United States before returning to her native Philippines. Building on her interest and expertise in HR, Professor Basuil took over as the head of the Ramon V. Del Rosario Sr. Center for Corporate Responsibility in 2017. She spoke the RSCA Programme in March 2022.  Opinions expressed are her own. 

Q: What is the goal of the Ramon V Del Rosario Sr Center for Corporate Responsibility

A: Broadly, we want to embed responsibility in every aspect of (business) organisation's operations. We are trying to guard against greenwashing, or CSR washing, where companies say they are responsible when supporting underrepresented groups or the environment, but the processes within their operations when treating their employees and suppliers are not responsible. It's really about being consistent - companies doing what they are saying, being responsible on a day-to-day basis.
Prof. Dynah Basuil

Q: There is a common confusion around CSR, that's it a kind of philanthropy - how do you explain to companies that it's more than that?

A: Yes, this notion of CSR only becoming possible when a company is profitable. And we want companies to do well. I have also been a manager, and I understand the bottom line – as do every student in our business school. But CSR should not be a post-bottom line endeavour. For us, CSR is about doing well in your operations from doing right by their stakeholders, including customers and employees. Investors are a big factor when it comes to embedding these practices because by investing in responsible businesses, these investors provide business owners incentives through capital to ensure their practices are rooted in responsibility and transparency.

Q: What is the legislative environment like in the Philippines. Are governments legislating to make responsible business practices an expectation of businesses?

A: Here in the Philippines, a CSR bill is being discussed in congress. Unfortunately, the narrative around this bill is still framed around CSR as philanthropy and how it can be mandated or regulated so it doesn't just become a tax avoidance strategy. Our position is that there is a golden opportunity for legislating embedding CSR deeply and not just encouraging philanthropic foundations. Unfortunately, our legislative processes are too slow. These talks began even before the pandemic, and I haven't seen a version of the policy that can really move the needle.

Q What is the status of labour in the Philippines. Are unions and union bodies influential?

A: Not as influential as we want them to be. Here in the Philippines, the job market has been depressed for the longest time, so employers have developed strategies that may not benefit employees. I've heard business owners say that 'candidates should actually be thankful' whenever they are offered jobs, which is back to front. The organisations should be thankful when the best candidates take a position, right? A small number of businesses treat their human resource as a capital and see them as an important source of their competitive advantage. As a result, these employers are very cognizant of doing it right in their people management practices, including allowing them to freely associate as a union. They feel that having this kind of institution enables a relationship of mutual respect and constant dialogue to prosper and become the foundation of a highly productive workplace that actually benefits everyone- the business, its employees, suppliers, and consumers.

Q: The EU places a lot of emphasis on labour and environmental standards in its international trade agreements. Does that have an impact in the Philippines?

A: It has potential but I think there has to be more conversation around these agreements. For example, if adherence to responsible business conduct is a compliance requirement, usually reinforced by tariffs, i.e. a company has to prove compliance to gain the benefits and I think that is not enough to have an impact. Of course, suppose all international agreements have business and human rights clauses. In that case, it becomes a benchmark. But, in reality, when companies and even governments see responsible business conduct as an additional cost, most choose to enter markets or have agreements with countries that don't have such clauses or expectations.
However, if there is a mechanism or program that enables suppliers and exporters to improve their practices to meet these expectations through support from industry associations and governments, then I think international agreements have a better chance of making a difference.
That's why I am quite proud of being part of this RSCA programme because that is precisely what it hopes to achieve. It really aims to provide support to the Philippines and supply chain actors at the grassroots level to enable actors down the value chain towards becoming responsible businesses.

Q International norms and guides, do you think these are influential?

A: Once actors, current and future business owners and managers, have been educated on these kinds of instruments, I do think so. That is part of the issue of our work here. Not everyone understands how to actually create sustainable practices. There is a lot of short-term profit-seeking, despite adverse impacts they are making which have long-term repercussions. But once they understand the issues, including better market access and better employer/employee relationships, they begin to see value. So, the next challenge is many of them don't know where to start. It's important to bring this type of conversation down to the practical level, not just at the government level.

Q: What's next for the Philippines – what is going to make the most difference in moving the needle?

A: The Philippines is a young country. And we have a lot of purpose-driven young people, more vocal about their aspirations and their expectations of how companies need to become more responsible towards their impacts on society. In the last 3 years through the RSCA program, we have been engaging with future business leaders on these principles on responsibility and their enthusiasm has been palpable- even as we switched to an online delivery during the pandemic. To meet these expectations as consumers, employees, managers or entrepreneurs, and even citizens, both the public and private sectors need to be more transparent, they need to share a more transparent approach to responsibility. Otherwise, these young people may become disillusioned and as a country, we will lose their talents to those countries that align with their purpose and values on what it means to be responsible towards society.