CSR activities of banks in Bangladesh
Historically, the banking sector of Bangladesh has been amply participating in various social activities especially, in the areas of education, health, sports, benevolent activities like donations to different charitable organizations, to poor people and religious institutions, city beautification and patronizing art & culture, etc.
Bangladesh Bank issued a comprehensive circular titled ‘Mainstreaming Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in banks and financial institutions in Bangladesh’. In that circular, CSR was defined as (i) considering the economic, social and environmental consequences of a business, (ii) mitigating the negative impacts and bolstering the benign effects, (iii) initiating action programs and community investments to trim down social exclusion and inequality as well as to address the core sustainable development challenges (fulfilling the requirements of the current generation without cramping the capacity of future generations is a generally agreed meaning of ‘sustainable development’).
BB has been motivating banks to expand lending to the under-served sectors both as business case and CSR obligation; expecting to lead to more broad-based inclusive growth, and therefore reduce poverty. BB has indicated some priority areas in the field of CSR like Self-employment and SME credits designed to create productive new on-farm/off-farm employment; Financing of biomass processing plants, solar panels, waste recycling plants, Effluent Treatment Plants (ETPs); Credit programs for diversified production of crops, oilseeds, spices, vegetables, fruits etc.; Mobile phone based/MFI supported programs for prompt delivery of remittances; card based/ mobile phone based delivery of financial services; Financing programs to promote domestic tourism and markets in cultural products/events
Bangladesh Bank has, of course, started guiding the banking sector to become more environmentally responsive (e.g. via refinancing new loan products on solar energy, bio-gas, effluent treatment plant etc). All the commercial banks are asked to formulate their own CSR policy with the annual outlay for CSR programs and include the CSR programs in their mainstream banking activities instead of short-term social works like providing grants, aids and donations. In December 2010, Bangladesh Bank instructed the banks to establish separate CSR desk to pay special attention on this issue.
Reporting of the CSR initiatives by banks was suggested as appendage to regular annual financial reports, ultimately to build up full length wide-ranging reports in the Green Reporting Initiatives (GRI) format. Alike the statutory financial reports, the CSR reports were also anticipated to be publicly available for stakeholders’ perusal.
Bangladesh Bank has been publishing CSR review report annually for tracing advancement in mainstreaming of CSR activities. CSR initiatives of banks during last five years continued focus on i) financial inclusion of less privileged population segments and underserved economic sectors, ii) emergency relief in humanitarian distresses, ii) promotion of health, education and cultural/recreational activities for advancement and well being of underprivileged population segments, iii) financing and promotion of environment friendly projects, iv) adoption of energy efficient, carbon footprint reducing internal processes and practices in own offices and establishments.
Besides CSR initiatives involving direct expenditure, financial inclusion initiatives of banks proceeded apace during last five years. All banks participated actively in promotion of lending to SMEs and agricultural. For broader, deeper financial inclusion, banks proceeded ahead on multiple fronts including increased rural bank branch presence, mobile phone banking, and opening of bank accounts for low income population free of charge with nominal Taka 10 initial deposit
Globally, banks pursue CSR practices from self initiative. Central bank usually doesn’t intervene in their CSR activities or provide any directives to motivate banks for participating in CSR activities. But, in case of Bangladesh, the central bank provided regulatory framework to banks for CSR activities and monitors that in a regular fashion.
Bangladesh Bank is one of the members of United Nations Global Compact(UNGC) concentrating in the areas of human rights, labor standards, the environment and anti- corruption.
Bangladesh Bank being the chair of the Steering Committee of UNGC Bangladesh Local Network is actively leading CSR issues and implementation of CSR activities in financial sector as well as facilitates social investments in Bangladesh.
Bangladesh Bank in association with CSR Centre, Bangladesh playing a major role in different programs involving social, economic and environmental aspects.
As Bangladesh is a developing country, both central bank and revenue collector of government have to take proactive steps for fostering growth and economic development. Moreover, in a country like Bangladesh, poverty alleviation through minimizing income disparity is one of the top priorities. In that context, BB devises supervisory policies in such a manner, especially for last several years, so that banks not only move forward for their own growth, but also cansupport the development initiatives of the government. On the other hand, NBR too has provided tax incentive on CSR activities aimed towards motivating sustainable development activities.
Since the issuance of CSR directive by BB and SRO on after tax incentive from NBR, the involvement of banks in CSR activities has augmented in many folded aspects. Banks’ rapidly increasing participation in CSR activities with incorporation of socially and environmentally accountable organizational objectives, strategies and operations that are swiftly turning into global standards in “socially responsible competition” towards rearing inclusive economic and social growth and facilitate the nation to go forward with desired growth and efficient allocation of resources. Surely the collaborative effort by the concerned government bodies will further increase the CSR activities by banks which will support sustainable development drive of the Government of Peoples’ Republic of Bangladesh.