How socially responsible a company is directly impacts the welfare of its frontline staff and supply chains. (Photo: Eleanor/Oxfam)
Oxfam believes companies have an important role to play in society, and can be a major force for good by alleviating poverty and ensuring sustainable development in communities. If businesses upheld the rights of the poorest in their supply chains, for instance, paid their employees reasonable wages and provided safe working environments for their employees, this would directly protect their most vulnerable workers. Further, by paying their fair share of taxes, businesses would enable governments to better fund public services and poverty alleviation efforts, thus giving the poorest a chance to escape poverty.
To this end, Oxfam has been a strong advocate of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and businesses paying their workers reasonable wages; we have also been strongly urging companies to improve their tax transparency and pay their taxes in full. CSR not only benefits society as a whole, but also helps companies develop a good image, promote their business growth and achieve a win-win situation.
Oxfam has long been encouraging CSR. In 2004, we released the research report ‘Turning the Garment Industry Inside Out – Purchasing Practices and Workers’ Lives’, and in 2006 and 2009, we published ‘Transparency Reports’ I and II, again on the garment sector, focusing on Hong Kong and mainland Chinese companies. In both 2008 and 2009, Oxfam published two pieces of research on the CSR performance of Hang Seng Index (HSI) constituent companies, and in 2016, we published our research on companies’ Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) reporting to urge businesses to improve their policies and take the lead in CSR. In order to improve the standards of corporate reporting, we published a report about listed food companies’ CSR performance. In 2018, we also released the results of our study on how much the top 100 listed companies in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan supported the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals in their business practices.
Since 2010, our advocacy work has extended to regulatory bodies. We have submitted two submissions concerning the revision of the Companies Ordinance and ESG reporting to Financial Services and Treasury Bureau and the Hong Kong Stock Exchange respectively. In 2015, we began to engage with institutional investors by conducting a survey to collect their views on ESG reporting requirements for listed companies. In 2016, we began expanding our initiatives to include tax transparency and submitted our position paper on how to counter base erosion and profit shifting, and enhance transparency to the Financial Services and Treasury Bureau.
CSR Performance of Blue Chip Companies
At the end of 2008, we published our first CSR report, which was also the first attempt in Asia to document the CSR policies of the largest companies in the Hong Kong stock market. In 2016, we launched another study in this area based on the improved ESG reporting standards. In it, we assessed the performance of HSI companies and looked at how these companies can respond to important social and environmental issues through their business strategies.
We are calling Hong Kong’s large companies to fight poverty, follow international best practices and take the lead in CSR.
- Survey on the Hang Seng Index (HSI) Constituents’ Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG)
- CSR Survey of Hang Seng Index Constituent Companies 2009
- CSR Survey of Hang Seng Index Constituent Companies 2008
*Only available in Chinese
CSR Performance of Top 50 Blue Chip Companies in 2016
Nearly a third of the companies lagged behind in Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) and fell in the ‘unstable’ category.
Oxfam is urging companies to report on labour, environmental, human rights, equal opportunities and other areas of their business, and through these areas, implement strategies and policies that help alleviate poverty. This will enable all companies to enhance transparency and the public to monitor their ESG and CSR performance. As such, we have undertaken studies in this are a and have repeatedly urged the Hong Kong Stock Exchange to raise its ESG reporting requirements for listed companies in Hong Kong.
- Corporate engagement in and action on the Sustainable Development Goals in Greater China (2018)
- An assessment of the environmental and social transparency of food companies currently listed in the Hong Kong Stock Exchange (2017)
- Submission to the Hong Kong Stock Exchange on its review of the Environmental, Social and Governance Reporting Guide) (2015)
- A survey on institutional investors’ views on listed companies’ environmental, social and governance disclosure requirements (2015)
- Submission to the Hong Kong Stock Exchange on its Environmental, Social and Governance Reporting Guidelines Consultation (2012)
Fighting for greater tax transparency
Taxation is an important way for the government to fight poverty, however, many multinational corporations often enjoy or make use of low tax rates, tax concessions and tax loopholes. This makes it difficult for governments to fund public services to alleviate poverty, and this oftentimes affects people who live in developing countries most.
The OECD’s measures to counter base erosion and profit shifting (BEPS), as well as the Financial Action Task Force’s guidance on beneficial ownership are both aimed at enhancing tax transparency and preventing companies from tax dodging. In response to the government’s consultations in these areas, we submitted two papers:
- Oxfam’s Response to the Government’s ‘Consultation on Enhancing Transparency of Beneficial Ownership of Hong Kong Companies’ (Mar 2017)*
- Oxfam Hong Kong’s Views on Measures to Counter Base Erosion and Profit Shifting: A Response to the Hong Kong Government’s BEPS Consultation (Dec 2016)
*Only available in Chinese