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Business Advice

For more small firms, it's not just business

SMEs making corporate social responsibility part of their operations
The Straits Times - March 12, 2012
By: Jessica Lim
| More
For more small firms, it's not just business For The Love Of Laundry branch manager Rohaya Hamid sorts and folds second-hand children's clothes which are given to Riverkids Project. -- ST PHOTO: TED CHEN

STAFF at dry cleaning company For The Love Of Laundry do not just wash clothes - they also pass them on to a good cause.

Employees collect second-hand children's garments and used hangers from customers.

For each hanger donated, five cents goes to Riverkids Project, a charity that helps Cambodian children in danger of child abuse and trafficking. The second-hand clothes go to them too. 

'I think it gives a good signal to employees,' said the firm's marketing manager Tammy Henderson. 'It shows them that the company is not just focused on commercial gain.'

The eight-month-old firm, which employs 20 people, is among a growing number of small and medium-sized enterprises that are incorporating corporate social responsibility into their operations.

Singapore Compact, a non-governmental organisation that promotes the practice, has 400 members - half of which are small businesses.

When it was set up in 2005, it had only 30 of these firms.

Auditor KPMG, which provides consultancy services for companies embarking on corporate social responsibility programmes, has also received more interest from small, non-listed firms.

Its director of climate change and sustainability, Mr Graham Owens, said he has 'seen small and medium-sized enterprises go from not talking about it at all to talking about it now' over the past eight years.

Singapore Compact executive director Thomas Thomas said it is 'about running your business, measuring not just your economic output, but also your social and environmental impact'.

He added: 'Many big companies subcontract parts of their manufacturing processes to smaller companies,' he said. They take social responsibility seriously and are pressurising the small firms to do the same.

Assistant Professor of Law Eugene Tan of Singapore Management University said 'there is a growing appreciation that corporate social responsibility is not a luxury, but a must-have'.

Undertaker Ang Chin Moh Casket organised about 200 cremations for free last year for people with no next of kin or families who could not afford a funeral. Its marketing manager Nicole Yeo, 30, said the firm is setting up a charity department and considering assessing its 20 staff members' performance partly on whether they take on charity work.

'The occupation is not glamorous and people are reluctant to work in this industry,' she said. 'This really helps our employees take pride in what they do.'

Fashion boutique The Little Flower At The End Of The Rainbow donates to the Singapore Children's Society, collects clothing from past seasons to give to charities in Vietnam, and plans to give its two employees one day off a month for volunteer work.

Pest control company Origin Exterminators uses pesticides that selectively kill certain bugs - instead of eliminating all insects at one go. The company uses only recycled paper for its invoices and prints its newsletters with soya ink.

'All this puts up costs, but it isn't just about price,' said its owner Deanne Ong, 37. 'Pest control is not a sexy business like banking. We can't pay high rates so we need staff to feel they are part of a team.'

At Plain Vanilla Bakery, a one-man operation that opened in Holland Village last December, owner Vanessa Tan gives customers a free cupcake with every medium-sized or large empty box they return. On International Women's Day last Thursday, the 28-year-old launched a honey-apricot-almond cupcake and donated the proceeds - so far about $300 - to UN Women Singapore.

The Singapore Children's Society is confident that small businesses will become an important source of regular income and support. The charity has about 450 of them signed up to its 1,000 Enterprises for Children-in-Need programme, which was launched in 2009.

'These companies cannot organise charity events themselves because they lack the critical mass, time and resources,' said the society's chairman Koh Choon Hui. 'We sort that out for them.

'Many of the owners are entrepreneurs. They have become successful on their own and are very willing to give back to society.'



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