Redefining Sustainability in Asia: Back to Basics on Health and Safety

Originally published for K Magazine, GlobeScan CEO, Christophe Guibeleguiet, takes a look at how Asian consumer attitudes to business in society are changing and the need for companies to balance opportunity with responsibility. Divided into a 3-part blog series, our first post looked at trust, optimism, and extending corporate leadership in Asia, while a future post will look at the rise of ‘Aspirational’ consumers. This one focuses on health and safety issues.

In the first part of this blog series, we looked at the growing trust in corporations amongst Asians, as well as the optimism many Asians have about improvements in economic wellbeing over the next 20 years.
Despite this relatively positive outlook, the need for business to re-examine, re-define and communicate corporate responsibility in Asia has never been more pressing as we now take a critical look at some of the more publicized issues facing the region: urban pollution and public health scandals.

Visible threat of urban pollution

The effects of China’s pollution disaster are likely to have the greatest impact on public attitudes – as well as on government policy and business response. GlobeScan Radar shows that environmental protection is already at the forefront of Asian consumers’ perceptions of corporate responsibility (see chart to left). With pollution levels in Beijing and Shanghai setting new records throughout 2013, and the flow of data and commentary on the daily PM2.5 count, it’s unsurprising that more than nine in ten Chinese citizens in our survey described air pollution as a problem. Residents of the biggest Asian cities will be the first to make the connection between urban smog and companies’ environmental policies.

Safety and quality in products

Not only is the Chinese government acting to address this highly visible threat to the economy and its citizens’ health, it is also taking a hard line against companies who do not live up to corporate citizenship standards. When we asked people to name the most important thing a company can do to be seen as socially responsible, we identified differences in what corporate citizenship means to various cultures across the world (see chart to left). For substantial numbers of Chinese consumers, quality, safe products are fundamental requirements for socially responsible companies. This is further evidence that the growing number of high-profile contamination scandals has caused widespread distrust of food products in particular. For many Indonesians the watermark of responsibility is simply supporting the economy and creating jobs. Both these issues attract less attention among respondents in the developed world.