CSR in Asia: more than just supply chain topics

2495 tweets in just over two years.

That is the current result of an idea I had in November 2012 to try and get more information about what’s happening in Asia on sustainability and corporate social responsibility out to a Dutch audience.

What are the topics that are most relevant in for example Japan or Thailand when it comes to sustainable development and CSR which impact business operations locally?

This is what I wanted to start sharing more about with @MVOinAzie, a Twitter-account acting as a collector of resources, news, events, jobs covering any angle of sustainability and CSR in Asia as a whole and in individual countries.

So, what are the topics that make the headlines in Asia? And what countries are most discussed?

That question has led me to do a short analysis on a set of tweets, discussed below.

Admittedly, this analysis is partly anecdotal: I’ve only looked at this account’s content in the fourth quarter of 2014 with the intention to share some insights on important topics in sustainability in Asia. It does not intend to offer a scientifically sound investigation into CSR in Asia. That could be the topic of a book or a PhD research project. But I wanted to at least show a little bit of the issues that are relevant in specific places.

It is also anecdotal because despite the large amount of varied sources, my interest leans towards China and East-Asia (though I do think my range of sources are broad enough to be quite representative).

Some quick statistics

  • number of (re)tweets between October 1 – December 31: 287
  • number of countries covered: 19
  • country covered the most often: China, with 110 tweets
  • different categories used: 28

The categories are a tough one: I’ve been quite broad in setting these categories for this analysis and also differentiate for topics such as food (organic food / food safety) or circular economy and social entrepreneurship. And I have tried to separate some categories, such as air pollution within the environment category, or child labour and forced labour within the labour category, as I expected these to have enough content to warrant a distinction on their own.

What countries are covered?

CSR in Asia pie graph

It is clear that as an individual country, most news and articles covers developments in China. But it is also good to see that pretty much all countries in Asia get mentioned, which makes the total coverage very diverse ranging from Uzbekistan and Sri Lanka to Japan and Thailand.

Topics in China

Taking a closer look at an individual country, this shows some of the categories that I’ve used. The below chart covers China, where the news logically also covers the widest range of topics across the 110 tweets in three months.

China CSR topics graphic

Diversity in topics: not everywhere

Another interesting observation comes from looking at the countries which only have a few mentions across the three months that I looked at. However, where as for some this is a clear indication for the main CSR issue locally (Thailand = forced labour in the seafood industry / Uzbekistan = child labour in the cotton industry) for many ‘smaller’ countries usually a few topics come up.

For Mongolia, for example, these are local community issues in the mining industry but also the development of sustainable leather production. Indonesia receives mentions on labour, sustainable urban development and investments in illegal palm oil plantations.

Several other countries receive a larger share of mentions, among which are for example Bangladesh and Myanmar which are regularly in the news either for supply chain issues or human rights topics. Yet, the coverage online goes beyond the ‘expected’ topics for these countries. Bangladesh, for example, is also in the news on social entrepreneurship, taxation and gender topics.

Apart from China, the other two countries which show the largest diversity in topics are India and Japan – which isn’t surprising considering their importance in the region and the world and the size of their economies. The list of topics for Japan is very diversified, with only the more general category of ‘CSR’ (which often includes general articles on development of CSR, on green growth, etc) receiving more than 3 mentions.

For India, the cumulative group of labour topics scores most (including forced labour, child labour and freedom of association which are the three I distinguished within the labour category). This is not a surprising result, but the range of topics is far wider than just this, and also includes waste, social entrepreneurship, local community and climate change to name a few.

CSR in Asia: more than just supply chain related

One idea that I had when I started learning more about sustainable development and CSR and how these topics are developing in Asia is that it is about a lot more than just supply chain related. Often, when I explain to people what I do the expectation is sometimes that I audit factories. This aspect of responsible business operations outside of the Netherlands is, of course, important – and as so many of our products are manufactured in Asia it is natural that supply chain topics receive a lot of attention.

But there is so much more happening in Asia than just the challenge of manufacturing more responsibly. The diversity of the topics – and countries – covered shows that sustainability really does matter in this part of the world (I am often met with disbelief when I say I work on China and sustainability).

And what happens in Asia has an impact on the rest of the world: whether it is the challenge of decreasing emissions worldwide while China is still heavily dependent on fossil fuels or finding ways to use resources more responsibly in ever-expanding cities in Southeast-Asia.

This offers challenges for European companies operating in these countries – and opportunities. Making yourself better acquainted with local developments is a first step towards making use of the opportunities and handling the challenges. @MVOinAzie hopes to provide the information to do that.

(And if you want to know more details about this quick analysis, please get in touch!)

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