International standards often use a vocabulary that is not attuned to local mindsets and modes of thinking and living. That does not make them any less relevant, but it does mean that it is particularly challenging for Islamic organizations to fully embrace these standards without losing sight of Islamic principles and values. Any organization that succeeds in understanding international expectations and in harmonizing them with local culture, will have a key competitive edge – Said in the interview Dr Sied Sadek.
Complete interview below
United Nations Industrial Development Organization magazine “Making It” published latest article on IRI -Islamic Reporting Initiative.
Tell us about your experience in countries where Islamic principles are an important part of the local and cultural context?
I think that many companies and organizations in Islamic countries are caught between international standards and expectations on the one hand, and Islamic principles and culture on the other hand. Whether it is Qatar, the UAE, Iran, Egypt, Malaysia or any other Islamic country we are talking about, it quickly becomes apparent that harmonizing international standards with local culture is a challenge. To me, this is entirely a cultural phenomenon in the broadest sense: international standards often use a vocabulary that is not attuned to local mindsets and modes of thinking and living. That does not make them any less relevant, but it does mean that it is particularly challenging for Islamic organizations to fully embrace these standards without losing sight of Islamic principles and values. Any organization that succeeds in understanding international expectations and in harmonizing them with local culture, will have a key competitive edge.
In your experience as an assessor, what trends do you foresee in corporate social responsibility reporting in these countries?
I think CSR reporting in Islamic countries will follow a similar trajectory as it did in other countries: more and more organizations will report on their environmental performance, energy management, labour conditions, business ethics and their value in the marketplace and towards society. This is simply because the underlying factors that drive reporting are similar across the globe: people expect companies to create value for society and the public has a strong appreciation for organizations that uphold strong values and ethics. This will continue to drive reporting forward – in Islamic countries, as well as elsewhere.
What are some of the challenges for companies in these countries when it comes to reporting on CSR?
This relates to what I said earlier: international standards are sometimes thought to be universal, but they seldom are. They are based upon international experience and best practice, but that does not mean that they can replace local values. Think of concepts like human rights or women’s empowerment: we may all agree with the underlying principles and put them into practice, but that does not mean that the vocabulary and terminology can simply be transposed into any culture. Yet, that is exactly what we see happening today. I am absolutely convinced that we need to pay more attention to the local cultural aspects and context when it comes to implementing standards – not only in the Islamic world, but everywhere.
What opportunities do you see in the creation of a new CSR reporting standard that is based on Islamic principles?
If the Islamic Reporting Initiative standard manages to connect international expectations with local culture, I see this as a great opportunity for Islamic countries and organizations to report on their commitment to certain values and principles. In many ways I think this could correct the asymmetry of reporting we see today: in certain parts of the world it seems Islamic countries do not report – they are reported about by others. This maintains and reinforces misconceptions and stereotypes, for example about the role of women in Islamic countries. More transparency can adjust the perception and shed light on the value Islamic organizations create for society. It can create more visibility for the positive aspects of Islamic societies, for the respect for individuals, which is undoubtedly there.
In that sense, the Islamic Reporting Initiative can be a much needed initiative to enhance communication between cultures. We believe it will motivate more organizations to report, that it will raise awareness among the public and that it can contribute to an appreciation for the diversity of the Islamic world.
How will DQS be able to provide expertise sensitive to the local and cultural context, to the development of the Islamic Reporting Initiative?
As a certification and audit company, DQS has been working with standards for over thirty years. During that time, we have learned a lot about the cultural, religious and socio-economic contexts that determine the success or failure of standardization. The two main shareholders of the DQS Group are Underwriters Laboratories (UL) and Deutsches Institut für Normung (DIN): two of the major standard-setting bodies in the world. When it comes to developing standards, we are at the source of the know-how and we very much look forward to contributing to a project as exciting as the Islamic Reporting Initiative – by engaging in the working groups and by serving on the standard drafting committee. Our offices in Islamic countries will be pleased to provide their local expertise, to raise awareness about this initiative and to serve as a training and assurance partner.
Daan Elffers, Chairman of the Islamic Reporting Initiative, interviews Dr Sied Sadek, Managing Director of DQS CFS and DQS Middle East on the trends of CSR reporting in the Islamic world. UNIDO, 2016
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