International CEO Roundtable of Chinese and Foreign Multinationals Corporations

By: Robert J. Allan

In early November I was asked by Professor He Zhiyi, the Director of the Management Case Center of Peking University, to prepare and present a paper entitled: “Western and Chinese Perspectives of Corporate Social Responsibility” at the Global CEO Forum in Beijing on November 15 and 16, 2008.

While researching and preparing the paper, which is posted on our web site, I came to believe the concept of social responsibility, which has many contemporary definitions but is most often considered to be responsible business behavior, was historically founded in Chinese cultural and currently accepted more by the Chinese government than Western governments.

My attendance at the conference validated this belief. All of the speakers representing the government emphasized the Chinese government’s commitment to the concept codified in Chapter 1 Article 5 of the Company Law of the People’s Republic of China.  This mandates a company shall comply not only with the laws and administration but also the obligations of business and social morality and shall bear social responsibility.

Cheng Siwei, a UCLA alumni and the Chairman of the organizing Committee for the conference and the Vice Chairman of the Standing Committee of the 10th National People’s Congress, gave the welcoming address. While recognizing the current global economic crisis, which Siwei defined as a crisis of confidence in Western governments and financial systems, he stated a long term climate change is more important to the world than the current crisis. Siwei closed his comments by saying we have one earth and we need to protect it together.

While it is easy to be skeptical of statements made by representatives of and “beautiful laws” passed by the Chinese government, my attendance at the conference convinced me that both the government of China and the major multinational corporations from China, influenced by the recent earthquake and its effect on Chinese society, are serious about implementing corporate social responsibility in China.

Unfortunately, the event was not as well attended as expected due to the current economic crisis. The chief executive officers of multinational corporations need to diligently attend to their corporate affairs.  Instead, the heads of both the Chinese and Western governments were attending the G20 summit in Washington which was hastily convened by President Bush.

Notwithstanding the absence of a strong Western presence at the forum, it was worth attending.  The forum definitely confirmed my belief that the government of China at all levels realize the future of sustainable development in China, and the world requires recognition and implementation of responsible business behavior emphasizing people, the planet, and profits.

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