Business in Bulgaria – responsibility, sustainability and solidarity
“I propose that you, the business leaders – and we, the United Nations, initiate a global compact of shared values and principles, which will give a human face to the global market. Specifically, I call on you – individually through your firms, and collectively through your business associations – to embrace, support and enact a set of core values in the areas of human rights, labour standards, and environmental practices.”, with these words during the World Economic Forum in Davos in 1999, the then General-Secretary of the UN Kofi Annan, invited the global business sector and the UN to unite.
The avant-garde and visionary idea for the time recognized and illuminated for the first time the active role of business. It was embodied in the global initiative the UN Global Compact and its principles became a symbol of the responsible company.
Today, 20 years later, the UN Global Compact is the largest initiative for corporate sustainability, uniting more than 11 000 companies and 3 000 organizations, all of which are working on meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), respect the 10 principles and through sustainable practices and socially useful activities contribute to the betterment of society and the planet.
Today, 20 years later, this call to action is needed more than ever and the 10 principles are as present and necessary as they were in 1999.
Are the principles valid in Bulgaria, especially in a time of crisis?
The universality of the 10 principles is unarguable, but real benefit only exists when they are used creatively and with regard to local needs. That is why UNGC Network Bulgaria and the member companies are laying the groundwork for longlasting strategies for harmonious, collective actions, aimed at changing public perception. On the road to this change, communities are being built and significant results are being achieved through partnerships under the uniting label“Business as a force for good”.
“During the crisis, the member companies of the Bulgarian Network, united by the fundamental ten principles of the Global Compact, demonstrated that these principles embody universal values. Believing in them in difficult times is of even greater importance. It is exactly during such challenges when it becomes evident what values companies preach and what values they practice. They serve as verification for the integrity of business leaders in their relationship with clients, partners, employees and society. And responsible business answered the call and proved it is a force for good.”, Ognian Trajanov, Chairman of UNGC Network Bulgaria.
The initial reactions of all companies were related to ensuring continuity of business processes and supplies, ensuring the safety of employees and clients, mobilizing resources and a huge wave of empathy and donations in the battle against the pandemic.
Responsible companies did not walk away from their commitments and investments in society. The backbone of a society is made up of culture, healthcare and education. And that is exactly where we invest and our long-term investments are reimbursed in a time of crisis, said Dimitar Tsotsorkov, Chairman of the Board at Assarel-Medet. Examples of this are the investments of Assarel-Medet for 160 million leva in Panagyurishte, 120 million of which were dedicated to the modern hospital in the city, 1.52 million from Aurubis, dedicated to social projects in Zlatitsa and Pirdop, and ContourGlobal Maritsa Iztok 3’s investment of 1 billion 400 million leva in the last 17 years for reliable energy production, environmental protection measures and investments in the community.
The road to successfully managing the repercussions of the crisis goes through solidarity for the affected parties, through which the negative effect on the most vulnerable can be softened. TPP ContourGlobal Maritsa Iztok 3, for example, helped the crisis centre for women and children who were victims of abuse in Stara Zagora. Solvay Group created a solidarity fund with their employee’s thanks to the personal donations from the directors of the group. “Philip Morris Bulgaria” provided financing to the long-term project “Happy summer, Caring autumn”, realized by the Bcause foundation, which supports tobacco-producing communities in five separate regions of Bulgaria, for the sixth consecutive year.
There are a plethora of examples of how companies engaged with the community and they proved that the company members of UNGC Network Bulgaria practically apply what the 10 principles for sustainable development proclaim and did not shy away from the positions they have taken. All realized projects in the sectors of healthcare, education and enlightenment, and social assistance have great added value, purely because they contribute to strengthening the environment in which organizations operate.
What are the lessons learned and what will change?
The serious challenges faced when trying to ensure the continuity of production and the provision of services pushed towards the shortening of the supply chain and making it more stable and secure. Aligning corporate strategy and planning with the SDG’s adds an advantage. Choosing suppliers and partners is quickly becoming a deeper process with higher requirements for their sustainability and responsibility. Longterm partnerships have weight, which is based on trust and the responsible behaviour of the business. And finally, it is without a doubt that belonging to the UN Global Compact is perceived as an advantage in the relationship with both local and distant partners.
The pandemic also led to a redefinition of the employer-employee relationship. The success of the “work from home” model means that there are new expectations for companies to provide such opportunities in the future, for a new balance between peoples personal lives and their career aspirations, for expanding the number of freelancers and for the gig-economy to have a larger share of the market. The accessibility of technology and different platforms allow for ever greater opportunities for professional realization outside of companies. Businesses have to prove that the individual will achieve greater results within their corporate structure, without losing his or her identity. A transition to a shorter, 32-hour working week awaits us. An increasing part of peoples’ realization will be outside the organization. The company has to offer more and be attractive in other fields of peoples’ lives. CSR or public responsibility is key for the employer brand. Companies will increasingly transition to being communities of like-minded people.
According to Silviya Peneva, managing partner at “Deloitte Bulgaria”, it is most important for an individual to believe there is meaning in his or her life. Companies contribute to this satisfaction, well-being and work-life balance by increasing trust between employees, employers and customers, and through an ethical corporate culture.
The pandemic illuminated the fact that we all live in a globally-connected world and the issues of one society become the issues of all societies. There is no longer any doubt that we are a threat to our planet. The satellite images, which showed a large decrease in pollution achieved only during the short period of restricted human activity, the change in air quality in Sofia, the fear from the collapse of over-indebted giant economies will lead to sobriety.
The environmental protection policies of Assarel-Medet, Aurubis and Overgas can be indicated as excellent examples, specifically their techniques and efforts for afforestation and land reclamation.
The crisis also pushed us towards the acceleration of the implementation of the SDG’s, which are connected to each and every one of us. They are known, however not yet recognized. A good example is the UNGC Bulgarian Network’s Strategic plan for advancing the Global Goals, but companies and institutions need to be the ones who take the charge by pledging to specific commitments.
One thing is for certain: only sustainable business, based on trust and intransitive values, can prosper post the major changes caused by the pandemic. Only united can we successfully manage global challenges and achieve a lot more than we can alone.