Corporate Social Responsibility has grown in importance in recent years. In this interview with Asia Law Portal, Alfred Ip, Senior Partner, Hugill & Ip Solicitors details the current state of CSR in Hong Kong, its future in China and the greater APAC region, and how companies and law firms can adapt unique CSR initiatives.
What is CSR and why is it important for businesses and organizations?
CSR is seen as a strategic direction for societies. There’s an undeniable growing impact of CSR in the business sector, particularly big industrial and service-oriented corporations, as these look for viable business sustainability models.
Overall, societies have become more ethically aware, and consumers are more attracted to businesses that have a strong commitment to CSR. In fact, while doing business and guaranteeing shareholder profits, businesses need to consider the bigger necessity of social wellbeing and environmental protection.
Social Responsibility is also an internal driver in motivating, retaining and attracting talent to a company. It is truly a long-term positive investment in the business on top of leaving a deeper mark into the society we live in.
What is the current state of CSR in Hong Kong?
Hong Kong has a long tradition of philanthropy. In recent years there has been a growing emphasis on Corporate Social Responsibility and its link with business sustainability. CSR is seen as a strategic direction for societies, with Hong Kong gradually recognizing its importance. In the business sector’s quest for viable business sustainability models, the importance of CSR from a stakeholder perspective is increasingly being stressed. Year-on-year data shows that more companies have been concerned about business sustainability and have committed diligent efforts in implementing CSR practices.
We wish to see a larger number of local and small organizations getting involved in initiatives that impact our community and well as give their workforce a platform to develop a wider commitment towards society.
How does Hugill & Ip help the corporate sector enhancing the importance of CSR initiatives?
We often help international and local businesses set up in Hong Kong and advise on legal aspects concerning their roadmap to achieving a successful business. Such advice includes company and business structure, as well as employment and tax-related matters. Throughout this process, we also highlight the importance of corporate social responsibility and how it can benefit a business whilst also leaving a positive impact on society. Further to stressing its effectiveness in sustainability, we also emphasize that engaging with the community can further open doors to new business opportunities.
Is Hugill & Ip involved in its own CSR initiatives? Which ones?
Aside from our continuous pro-bono legal work, Hugill & Ip has been involved in different social responsibility activities teaming up and supporting different charity organizations about causes we feel very passionate about: from food banking and waste reduction to the BRACE Awards, from fighting the spread and the stigma related to HIV and AIDS to raising funds for cancer research and to encourage its prevention, detection and treatment. In late 2020, we have joined hands with Mother’s Choice for the Adoption Awareness Month and set up a fundraising activity for direct donations to the charity in exchange for free legal services provided by our firm.
How are law firm CSR initiatives distinct from those in the corporate sector?
These are not always distinct, yet the benefit that a law firm can bring is to enhance the legal awareness aspect of CSR – in fact, we feel that we have an obligation to make society more aware of a jurisdiction legal framework and its necessary development.
For example, we are currently collaborating with a group of law students from the University of Hong Kong for the Outreach Legal Talks Initiative (OUTLET). Together we organise a series of Estate Planning legal talks – held as webinars and live seminars.
OUTLET aims to enhance social justice and equality through empowering the needy and helping to prevent legal problems – in particular impacting the elderly. Under the supervision of legal professionals, law students design their own talks and deliver their insights to groups in community centres.
What is the future of CSR in the region?
We foresee that, while the importance of CSR in Hong Kong will keep growing, Mainland China will experience the biggest transformation. China’s citizens and their political leaders are no longer willing to allow businesses to shun their social and environmental responsibilities.
More recently, China’s government introduced harsher punishments for companies that fail to meet ESG standards, including significantly higher fines and jail sentences for senior officials.
External policies have also assisted, for example new regulatory requirements that the European Union recently adopted directly impact the whole supply chain of any company operating in, or exporting to, EU countries.
Another case might be the Hong Kong Stock Exchange – which a few years ago made ESG reporting compulsory for listed companies, then again in 2018, it introduced stricter disclosure requirements.