Vientiane Times, March 13, 2012
As Laos looks to foreign direct investment in extractive industries such as mining and hydropower to achieve its 8 percent annual economic growth target, the issue of a socially responsible private sector is becoming increasingly important. This was the message delivered at the International Law Forum “Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in Laos” which took place in Vientiane yesterday to discuss the role of businesses and CRS in the development of Laos.
Participants were in agreement that now is the time to further promote and manage corporate social responsibility. Achieving this will help to ensure fair distribution of the benefits of private investments, respect for human rights and reduced environmental impacts. CSR is as much about development as it is about human rights and environmental sustainability because of its direct impact on human development.
The forum brought together senior government officials, business representatives, experts and stakeholders to exchange views and share ideas on the concept of CSR and its relevance to Laos. This is vital as the country opens up in the process of economic integration in the region and the world, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Mr Alounkeo Kittikhoun said. The forum aims to raise awareness and understanding of CSR in Laos. It therefore provides a good opportunity for deliberation to identify the extent to which CSR has been perceived, understood and adhered to in Laos as compared to the situation in the region and internationally, he added.
“I am optimistic that we can use this forum to explore directions and the way forward to improve and consolidate CSR in Laos,” Mr Alounkeo said. He added that CSR is one of the most important topics discussed at all levels of policy making: at the UN, at the regional level and at national policy levels, and is high on the Asean agenda. As the regional grouping moves firmly towards the building of an Asean community by 2015, the issue of CSR has become very much relevant to the Asean economic community.
Mr Alounkeo explained that the existing national policies relating to CSR consist of the national constitution and several laws adopted by the National Assembly; and the sub-laws, decrees and policies adopted by the government. He added that notable examples of such laws are the Law on Environment Protection, Law on Mining, Law on Electricity, Law on Forestry, Law on Agriculture, Law on Water and Water Resources, Law on Labour, Law on Enterprises and Prime Minister’s Decree No.192 on compensation for people affected by development projects.
The special keynote speaker, Dr Souvanpheng Boupphanouvong, Member of the Standing Committee and President of the Economics, Planning and Finance Committee of the National Assembly, said she believes that now is the time to set a framework for CSR through a National Compact. “This will broaden awareness and capacity for corporate responsibility and sustainability and community rights, as an integral aspect of the
business environment in Laos,” she said in her remarks at the forum. UNDP Resident Representative Mr Minh Pham highlighted the importance of CSR to ensure that the impact on society from businesses is positive. “CSR is much more than philanthropy. The very survival and success of any company depends not only on shareholders but also on society,” he said.
Without accelerated economic growth and increased foreign direct investments Laos will not be able to achieve its ambitious national development goals, including the Millennium Development Goals by 2015 and Least Developed Country graduation by 2020. The issue of CSR directly relates to the crucial role of the private sector as the main engine for the sustainable economic development of Laos.