Despite the potential for better opportunities in the global market, many Vietnamese enterprises struggled to fulfill their corporate social responsibility (CSR), according to a leading business development figure.

Speaking at a recent workshop themed “Responsibility and Sustainable Operation – a Continuing journey”, director of the Vietnam Chamber for Commerce and Industry’s Office for Business Sustainable Development Nguyen Quang Vinh said small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have a lot of ground to make up.

He claimed the firms, which make up 97-98 percent of total enterprises in the country, still lack proper understanding, vision and resource to observe CSR properly.

"Insufficient awareness over CSR is the biggest challenge that Vietnamese enterprises are facing," Vinh said, listing examples of malpractice including business fraud, environmental damage, salary violations and poor labour safety.

They usually believed that social responsibility solely means arranging charity activities, Vinh said, noting that CSR also includes activities to ensure efficient economic growth, legal operation and community participation.

Secretary of the Vietnam Textile and Apparel Association Dang Phuong Dung said enterprises pay little regard to social responsibility as they do not see the benefits or opportunities that CSR can bring them.

"It's difficult for textile enterprises to observe social responsibilities as exporters, because they now have to follow various codes of conduct imposed by different importers," she said.

She added that SMEs with limited staff and financial capacity will find it particularly tough to meet the various evaluation systems of their partners.

Many enterprises have so far ignored their social responsibilities, because until now, Vietnam's legal framework has not made it compulsory for every business to follow them.

Experts noted at the workshop that big companies took social responsibilities more seriously as part of their efforts to meet partners' requirements.

Bryan Fornari, a representative from the EU Delegation to Vietnam, said CSR should be included in a company strategy, helping enterprises maintain and improve competitive advantages.

He warned that as consumers increase their expectations, companies which do not fulfill their CSR can lose opportunities to access the market.

Vinh said that if Vietnamese enterprises want to become multi-national, they have to find a way to effectively fulfill their social responsibilities.

"It's key for sustainable development, not just an added burden for enterprises," he said.

The workshop was part of a three-year project entitled "Helping Vietnamese SMEs adapt and adopt CSR for improved linkages with global supply chains in sustainable production", which focuses on saving energy, improving worker skills to match new technology line, as well as avoiding child labour and counterfeiting products.

With an overall budget of more than 2.63 million USD, the project was led by the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation and its governmental counterpart the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry in cooperation with eight additional partners.

Chief technical advisor Florian Beraneck said the project was launched in 2010 as one of several CSR facilitation programmes in Vietnam.

Over the past three years, thousands of workers and hundreds of businesses have improved their understanding of CSR through more than 100 events which have included forums, workshops and training courses, he said.-VNA