Often unnoticed, CSR flourishes

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Often unnoticed, CSR flourishes

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Amy Jackson, President of Amcham Korea

The concept of corporate social responsibility (CSR) has a strong foundation in Korean society. CSR is increasingly considered an essential part of any business, and the notion is expanding to include participation by employees. Like their Korean counterparts, U.S. companies have a long history of giving back to society. Indeed, this important concept has been engraved in the very DNA of American corporate culture. In step with our members, Amcham also has put a strong emphasis on the importance of CSR as a key part of our organization.

We are particularly pleased to see CSR expand in Korea beyond giving by companies to include participation by employees and their families. We also are very pleased to be partnering with many member companies - both American and Korean - and sharing our experience and knowledge in support of their CSR activities. The history of U.S. companies’ efforts to work in partnership with Korea goes back to the 1950s, when General Electric, Standard Oil (now ExxonMobil) and others assisted Korea in building infrastructure after the war. Since then, American companies doing business in Korea have supported Korean society in a variety of ways as good friends and neighbors. Our member companies consider themselves an integral and supportive part of Korean society. One of the things that makes me proud to be a representative of American companies in Korea is the continuous desire of our members to actively engage in CSR activities that utilize their areas of expertise.

For example, Microsoft has provided diverse educational programs to improve IT skills and foster entrepreneurship, encouraging Korean youth to be more creative and innovative. Pfizer gives scholarships to medical students and helps disadvantaged families through financial support and mentoring. MetLife established its MetLife Korea Foundation and through that organization is engaged in many activities to support less privileged and handicapped children.

Amcham also helps member companies implement CSR programs through our Partners for the Future Foundation, established in the aftermath of the 1997 Asian financial crisis. Member companies have contributed millions of dollars to the foundation and helped thousands of students complete their education and find jobs. CEO Servers’ Night is another signature charity activity of Amcham in which CEOs of global companies serve their employees and friends as waiters and waitresses to raise funds for scholarships. Recently, Amcham Innovation Camps, hosted by the Amcham Council on Innovation for the Future, arranged for senior executives from U.S. companies to visit Korean universities to give personal career advice and mentoring to students. In a few weeks, Amcham will host its annual Service Day, when staff and teams from member companies work together to clean a nearby stream.

Keeping with the true spirit of giving, most CSR activities of American companies in Korea are rarely publicized as most prefer to quietly go about their activities in the community. I was a bit disappointed with some recent criticism that foreign companies do not give back to Korean society. In particular, there were some articles criticizing foreign businesses for not assisting after the Sewol ferry disaster when, in fact, many U.S. companies provided goods, materials, money and manpower. This gave me a chance to consider the true spirit of CSR once again and common misperceptions about CSR activities. The virtue of CSR is aid provided to the community and should not be judged by the amount of publicity it receives. Certainly, sometimes there is a need to publicize CSR activities to encourage greater participation by others, but the primary goal of CSR should never be public recognition.

I am pleased with the level of CSR activities by both foreign and domestic companies in Korea, but I would like to see more. We pledge to continue our efforts to expand CSR and work to enrich the lives of all Koreans.

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