Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Labour Law Violations… Can Entrepreneurs and SMEs really do anything about it?

A few weeks back I started drafting a post about CSR and Labour Law Violations. The CSR topic is never off the table and at that time there were two triggers to this blog post idea. Apple had made it news again. I had been reading about it in local newspapers (Shanghai Daily_among others “Apple suppliers defy labor laws” 02/03/2010- sorry can’t provide link) and in some of the blogs I subscribe to. I especially recommend a very good post by All Roads Lead to China (Did Anyone Learn anything from Nike?).

The second trigger was an anecdote I heard from somebody connected to a big multinational settled in China that prides itself in taking CSR very seriously.  A Chinese employee was sent to a trade show looking for an item for a one-off promotion, so no big volumes involved. And, surprise, surprise! She just couldn’t find a supplier who would accept a written commitment to their CSR policy!

So, I started wondering, if big companies with enough negotiating power to impose their CSR standards clearly have problems keeping track of what their suppliers do or just can’t impose their terms unless they are backed by big purchase volumes… Is there anything entrepreneurs or SMEs can do?

I checked with a few entrepreneurs. The feedback was, as expected, not too encouraging. When you are struggling to start up a business, CSR may not be in your check list. For those who had given it a second thought, the feedback was that they had only encountered law-abiding factories…but that somehow did not feel too realistic to me…so my post got stuck there.

Today I decided to resurrect it because “I’ve seen light at the end of the tunnel”… or maybe just a tiny flash of light. I’ve come across a press release by AsiaInspection which shares some promising figures and insights based on 9.500 inspections they performed during the last quarter of 2009. Their article is titled “Importing Nations Leading China to Social Responsibility” and it highlights the fact that the Social Audits they were commissioned grew 75% during Q4 09 …The article is not clear, though, on how many of those 9.500 inspections were actually Social Audits (and I fear, most of those inspections would be shipment and production inspections), but a positive trend of that magnitude is still good news.

So now that I’ve recovered my enthusiasm, I will make a point to follow up on what the profile of these companies requesting social audits is and whether we can also find in the list committed entrepreneurs and SMEs.

Do you have some insights on this topic?