In 2007, the Energy Chamber (then the South Trinidad Chamber of Industry and Commerce) published its seminal study Mapping Corporate Social Responsibility in Trinidad and Tobago: Private Sector and Sustainable Development.

Almost a decade on, most companies still seem to be getting it wrong.

From where I sit, it appears that the discourse on CSR in Trinidad and Tobago has developed quite askew, and, as organisations continue to grapple with what it is, and what it is not, the underlying intent seems to be lost somewhere between the marketing department and the communications department, never quite making it to the CEO’s office.

Add to this the rapid expansion of literature and terminology evolving from and related to the field, from “corporate citizenship” to “conscious capitalism” to “sustainable development,” and we seem to have lost our way.

My take on it is simple: Call it what you want, the intent must focus on being a “responsible organisation,” not merely doing a “responsible act,” and this is where I think we started to go wrong.

Step back for a moment and think of your organisation, its purpose, vision and mission: How can your organisation fulfil this purpose in a responsible way?

The definition of “responsibility” varies from individual to individual and from organisation to organisation, but very broadly speaking, it’s about being accountable.

So again, very broadly speaking, the focus needs to be on accountability to society for all the actions of the business in fulfilling its purpose.

Now, contrast this with merely doing a “responsible act.” Any organisation, even an “irresponsible organisation,” can do a “responsible act,” and these acts are then highlighted and marketed as CSR without the organisation really being accountable to society for all of its actions.

The focus of CSR in Trinidad and Tobago still appears to be on doing ad hoc “responsible acts” (CSR projects) while the rest of the organisation operates completely oblivious to the necessary social accountability for all the actions of the business.

It follows, therefore, that if we want to be responsible organisations that are accountable to society for all of our actions, then we need to look at responsibility in all areas of the business, including procurement practices, the meeting of statutory obligations, labour practices, supply chains, and the list goes on.

We need to focus locally not just on the community and the environment, but also on the workplace and the marketplace.

We cannot, therefore, have organisations that continue to do “responsible acts” (CSR Projects) while simultaneously evading taxes, bribing customs officials, taking kickbacks, circumventing procurement practices, discharging effluent into waterways, infringing on human rights or not properly utilising and managing resources.

Such things just do not add up and are about as far as you can get from being sustainable.

I think it’s time we start to look again at the CSR agenda and start to change the discourse, transforming ourselves from organisations that merely do “responsible acts” to organisations that are responsible.