What is social responsibility in shipping?

Nima Roshanaei from the Maroos Shipping Group on our industry’s path to understanding and incorporating social responsibility into day-to-day operations.

Social responsibility as a collective code of conduct is a fairly recent phenomenon, one that shapes social accountability through which industries and organisations set their business goals while maintaining the decorum of law, ethical practice and international standards. Social responsibility has emerged as a concept designed to reduce adverse impacts of corporate activity on society and the environment. Organisations set a fine standard for themselves, their business operations, and in their interaction with a variety of stakeholders; clients, employees, communities, environment, suppliers, regulatory entities, interest groups and society in general. Social responsibility is therefore the call to integrate social and environmental concerns and the enterprise that places moral duty, transparency and ethical behaviour as a tenable part of any organisation’s strategy and long term objective.

The shipping industry of today is one of the most truly global, highly regulated and socially conscious of its time. The inter-governmental bodies and other UN agencies have been introducing policies that promote the protection of the world oceans and the wellbeing of society and the environment as a whole. Thus the environmental sensitivity has transformed the shipping industry, both in the private and public sectors, to align their profitability goals, with preserving Earth’s natural resources and communities’ well-being. Considering the growing dialectic on sustainability and innovation, it is inevitable for the entire industry to re-define the true essence of social responsibility and its applications.

The pathway to social responsibility awareness and practice requires clear goals alongside collaboration between public and private sectors

So what is social responsibility in shipping? In short, it deals with challenges such as health, safety and environmental protection, green supply chain management, welfare of workers, seamen labour rights, energy efficiency and emissions reduction. It also encompasses all maritime activities that take place in an international environment, among entities and individuals that come from a variety of backgrounds, with diverse and sometimes conflicting chases. Social responsibility is where organisations are aware of their local as well as global societal demands and are taking the necessary steps to address the challenges of the 21st century. A socially responsible shipping company is working actively to integrate economic, social and environmental concerns while running daily business operations by finding a sound balance between the need for operational efficiency, shareholder value and attention to the interests of non-financial stakeholders. But shipping companies could not pull the weight alone!

Governments must formulate and develop national maritime policies and enforce shipping and transport rules and regulations. In addition, the IMO and ILO need to ensure that their vision for a safe, secure and efficient international shipping industry will strengthen maritime capacities and help achieve the sustainable development goals. But so far, their failure to set and secure enforcement of shipping and maritime rules and regulations, has increased expectations and pressure on the shipping companies and the private sector as a whole. The lack of formal policy is a source of vulnerability for the shipping industry’s reputation and credibility and has contributed to higher capital and operating cost, as the shipping companies are finding it harder to demonstrate to customers, activists and investors that they are aware of social and environmental risks, and are willing to implement a socially responsive policy and report on their efforts. Many shipping organisations have now implemented voluntary sets of practices as self-regulation beyond existing laws to create benefits for the business as well as society. Formulating a social responsibility policy gives guidance on how to engage with stakeholders and undertake activities influencing the perception of the industry positively. This in turn may result in an improved relationship with stakeholders, inducing sustainable growth, enhancing a company’s image, reducing operating costs and efficiency, and increasing economic transparency, and by spreading the values of social responsibility among employees, shipping companies can sustain increased loyalty, stimulate innovation and reduce risks in times of crisis or accidents. So social responsibility engagement is encouraged not only by policy but by way of increased value and benefits to corporations.

We understand that although social responsibility is a new theme, the shipping and maritime industries are adopting the mindset to be more harmonious and cooperative towards community demands. That said, incorporating a social responsibility framework, will not be a straight forward process; since on the one hand policy-making both on the national as well as international spectrum lags behind, and on the other, top management commitment to adhere and implement its components require resources and a change in the human perspective. So our industry’s rudder alignment still needs adjustment. The pathway to social responsibility awareness and practice requires clear goals alongside collaboration between public and private sectors. Raising social and environmental standards is an achievement of shared knowledge, setting priorities and developing tools to address ethical practices in the industry.

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