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UN Global Compact Russia

Interview

Elena Feoktistova. Farther away from the brink

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Elena Feoktistova

Deputy Chair of the Steering Committee. The Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, Managing Director, Corporate Responsibility, Sustainable Development and Social Entrepreneurship

That is a very important thing - what we once created, works for the good without us. What I'm doing now is certainly inspiring. The content, amazing meetings, people who leave a mark on your soul and life...

Elena , you are a person who oversees the development of the Global Compact Local Network in Russia practically from the very beginning. Was it difficult to launch it and implement in Russia? What were the values and mission perceived at that time?

I did not just watch, we were all in the thick of things. RSPP joined the Global Compact at the end of 2003, and I started working here from the beginning of 2004, so I’m really involved from the very beginning. I can say that the first years were very productive and the principles of the Global Compact took root well in our country. Some things have always been familiar to Russia, something has grown from the practice of the Soviet Union, including, in particular, many norms of labor law and social policy in the activities of enterprises.
The Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs and the adoption of the Charter of Business Ethics (2003) and the Social Charter of Russian Business, the first edition of which appeared already in 2004 (later, in 2007–2008, it was updated) played a major role in promoting responsible business practices. A mechanism was created to relate the Global Compact and the Social Charter as a guide to action for responsible business. At the same time, the Charter became an instrument for promoting the Global Compact itself in Russia. The Social Charter directly refers to the Global Compact, developed in accordance with the UNHCR, relying on it. Moreover, the Social Charter highlights not just thematic blocks, but the actions that need to be taken in order to implement the Global Compact principles in practice.

In continuation of this work in 2007, we concluded an agreement with the United Nations Development Program in Russia, that together we would promote both initiatives as two documents related to each other. Our common goal was to popularize these values ​​in Russia and to involve more and more companies. Active position and our teamwork were highly appreciated by the head of the Global Compact. And we are still very proud to have played a big role in the development and promotion of the Global Compact in Russia.

I cannot say that it was difficult. The Social Charter of the Russian business is a national document approved at the congress of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs. The social responsibility standard is also, to a certain extent, based on the principles of the Global Compact. All this time, positive business practice developed in Russia, and analyzing it, we correlated the estimates with the concept of the UNHR. Of course, some aspects were complex, for example, human rights, responsibility in the supply chain, they did not easily take root on our soil. But today there has been a noticeable advance in these and other areas.

Is the situation in the field of corporate responsibility and sustainable development in Russia more encouraging? Including, judging by how actively the legislative shifts, the request for a “better world” at all levels, and the changes that occur at the level of business models, business DNA, transformation in the interests of sustainable development, understanding of the meaning and values of such a restructuring...

The business community is not homogeneous, different processes take place in it, we all understand it. But, judging by the practice that is becoming characteristic of many large companies, especially leaders, the motion vector in the direction of greater stability and responsibility is chosen by them correctly. 

It is important to note that among the medium and small businesses these sprouts are also gradually sprouting, although, perhaps, slower and less noticeable, but such a business is more susceptible to the negative influences of the external environment, it is more difficult for it to be sustainable and plan long-term development. The more favorable the entrepreneurial climate becomes, the more likely it is that the principles of social responsibility and sustainability will be widely introduced into business practice. The global agenda affects Russian business, for which the movement remains an urgent task in the context of global trends. There were new accents and initiatives, documents that explained the directions and tasks of sustainable development to the business much more widely. Today, the priorities of the close attention that society has been devoting to business and its impact on all spheres of life for more than a decade are more obvious and understandable. The agenda is becoming wider.

And more and more companies are talking about their turn to the subject of sustainable development. Does this mean that they have outgrown the level of CSR, reached a new level?

I would not oppose. I think this is a question of some misunderstanding and artificial division of terms. Corporate responsibility - corporate social responsibility - is not a social activity, but a responsibility to society for the impact. The social responsibility standard says: CSR is the implementation of the principles of sustainable development and the contribution to sustainable development at the company level. That is, these two concepts are interconnected, and this needs to be clarified. The point is not in terms, but in what they are filled with. The approach should be systemic.

However, the number of Russian companies that are involved in the global sustainable development agenda is not large yet. These are mainly international companies that operate in Russia, and the obvious Russian leaders, the largest, who already “cannot” do otherwise. Do you agree?

Partially. On the one hand, such a gradual inclusion of Russian companies in the realities of the new economy and global interaction is a natural stage. But this does not mean that the principles of responsible practice are not being introduced into the activities of a much larger number of companies than we can conditionally rank among the leaders in this field. Many are unaware that their practice correlates with the international agenda. There are many reasons, but it can be said that if companies are not aware of such an agenda, our voice may not be loud enough. We need to promote a better understanding of global trends, in accordance with which companies restructure their activities, the realization that following these principles allows us to conduct business effectively and manage risks. Adherence to sustainable development values ​​and responsible business practices today already largely determines access to and success in markets. Our companies will also feel this mass more or less sooner or later, faced with tougher demands of investors, partners, customers, and authorities. We see that, in many respects, recommendations in the area of ​​adhering to the principles of responsible business practice eventually develop into requirements, such as greater openness, safety, reduced negative environmental impact, adherence to business ethics and much more.

Is joining the Global Compact in this sense a visionary step?

Joining the Global Compact is an official reputational step. The company declares that it recognizes the principles of the initiative and the Sustainable Development Goals, but does not necessarily have fully implemented them, because this is a long way. A public statement entails entering into a new business relationship. This is a sign on which today more and more partners, investors determine with whom they deal, in which direction the company will develop, on what principles it bases its activities. Joining shows a worldview, shared by company values. This also helps within the company to defend the position in favor of responsibility, to make the right decisions. Strengthens business. Being involved in the Global Compact helps to track trends and actual practice, to better understand what threats are, but also what new opportunities. It is already more than obvious that a new environment is being formed (documents, programs, norms, requirements, etc.), which forces us to be attentive to what the Global Compact is promoting. In this sense, its value is increasing, since it is the basis of many modern approaches; international documents refer to it. Participation in the Global Compact is becoming increasingly clear for investors. This is also a sign that the Global Compact should be more careful. In the framework of independent assessments, in the questionnaires filled in by companies, there are often questions about what international and national initiatives the company supports, what principles it shares, what confirms its choice, its orientation. Global Compact is a platform on which it is advisable to focus. It is important to strive for joining, but it is necessary that there is understanding and knowledge in this area. Of course, there are not so many people in Russia who consider joining the Global Compact as an advantage. Here there is the responsibility of the initiative itself, why it has not yet achieved such wide recognition. For companies to at least express recognition of principles, you need to interact more with them. In general, this work cannot yet be considered sufficient, especially in regional practice.

Probably, including for these purposes - to strengthen Global Compact in Russia, expand the functions of the national network, promote values and more effectively clarify the benefits of engaging businesses in the global agenda - the Association "National Network of the Global Compact" was created and the RSPP became one of its co-founders.

In many ways so. The purpose of the association was to promote the initiative, and RSPP played an active role in reformatting the national network. Before that, there was also a rather productive period, when, for example, companies took upon themselves the provisional function. The work was considerable, but we understand that the association is a step that had to be taken. Including, in order to regulate the work that was often carried out on a voluntary basis. An important reason is that there have been changes in the Global Compact, which seeks to strengthen and institutionalize its system throughout the world.

How do you see the main modern tasks of the national network in Russia?

I consider that before us, before a network, some important tasks. The first is to keep companies in a connected state. When a network organizes something, it should, first of all, involve its members as much as possible, always be in touch with them. The association can now do it. This is an additional impetus to enhance internal cohesion. Another very important task is our mission to explain and show all changes to business, explain and educate, inform and provide a platform in order to draw attention to the new agenda. There are many different international initiatives within it, which, in fact, we know very little about. You need to understand what is real, in practice, all this means. The most important new platform for financing sustainable development, which should be unifying to stimulate movement in this direction. Responsible investment, already established in Europe. There they have very strict criteria that must be taken into account. Everyone knows about the initiative, but what opportunities and risks does it offer here and now? It is important to understand the reporting format for the Sustainable Development Goals. So far, it is carried out by providing an analysis of non-financial reporting that accumulates domestically. It is also important to understand what non-financial criteria are used in evaluating companies. How exactly do the principles of sustainable development work in practice? If business demands are made in this regard, they should be described and it should be clear what this entails and what the consequences are. In addition, our task is to form an understanding not only among business, but also among society. Spread information, talk about how the world is changing, how much the business contributes to making the situation - in our country, in the world - change for the better. Pay attention to the work of entrepreneurs, which is behind these changes.

Why is it important to you personally?

I have always had some kind of initial feeling that this is a creation. And it gives you the confidence that you are going in the direction of something really important. When I worked in the field of social policy in the ministry, in the framework of international projects, we were engaged in, among other things, creating a de facto new industry — a system of social support for families and children; a network of institutions providing social services to these categories of people was formed. We understood that this would promote social health and reduce distress. Then they managed to attract much attention to the idea and convince them of the need to develop the direction and move the horizon apart. This is very important - what we once created works for the good without us. What I'm doing now is certainly inspiring. And the content, and amazing meetings, and people who leave a mark on your soul, life. For me, important and memorable are, for example, meetings with James Grant, who was the executive director of UNICEF in 1980-1995, with the ex-executive director of the Global Compact, George Kell. People of different warehouse, but with the same motive - creativity. This is the force that holds the world, thanks to which we are further away from the brink. And we should not be afraid of difficulties, misunderstanding or a long road. I often recall the words of one well-known entrepreneur, spoken by him, as I recall, in the initial stages of a takeoff and successful career: when a caravan in a desert suddenly changes direction and the last camel can be the first, it is important to keep the lead.

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