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Responsible Business - Critical for the CR’s reputation

sustainable development

Responsible Business - Critical for the CR’s reputation 

Prague is globally celebrated for its magnificent architecture, medieval palaces and impressive bridges, and enjoys a reputation for being one of the most beautiful cities in the world.  But the capital’s newest tourism initiative sadly focuses on a disturbingly darker side of Czech life, for which this country is attracting a growing negative reputation.

CorruptTour, the brainchild of Petr Sourek, 38, a philosopher and performance artist turned entrepreneur, taps into the widespread disillusionment with lawlessness and corruption which has undermined this country since the Velvet Revolution overthrew Communism is 1989.

“The Best of Prague’s Worst” walking tours showing the locations of institutions, corporate offices and homes of those associated with infamous scandals have been selling out, particularly since the latest bombshells emerged from the very heart of government.

Transparency International’s 2012 Corruption Perception Index, which ranks countries according to how corrupt their institutions are perceived to be, concluded that the Czech Republic’s score indicated a “serious corruption problem.”  Among the 27 members of the European Union at the time, only Slovakia, Romania, Italy, Bulgaria and Greece fared worse.

These days, there is more than enough nefarious activity afoot in the Czech capital to fill a three-hour excursion, which costs CZK 800.  The first stop on the tour takes people to a run-down apartment building in a poor neighbourhood where a wealthy lobbyist with a private jet and a home in Monaco, had once registered the address as his main residence.

In spite of the recent focus on a scandal at the heart of government, corruption has infected all areas of life and is disturbingly prevalent in the Czech business sector.  The recently published Edelman Trust Survey shows that people in this country have little confidence in business leaders as well public servants.  Chief executive officers and government officials share the same dishonourable place at the bottom of the table, with an average of 65 percent of respondents distrusting both.

Economic growth and the success of Czech business is inextricably linked to reputation.  Questions about the integrity of the private sector in this country is damaging its status on the world stage.  There is an urgent need for serious efforts to encourage good corporate citizenship.

Today’s successful companies must have robust sustainable development strategies which are underpinned by the principle of balancing the three imperatives of People, Planet and Profit.  For a business to survive in the long-term, they absolutely depend a “license to operate” which is informally awarded by society as a whole.  Unethical practices for short-term gain, whether it’s in the form of questionable governance, environmental damage or disrespect for the rights of people, are surely unsustainable.

Smart enterprises understand the clear business benefits of contributing to the societies in which they operate, and not sponging.  It’s therefore unsurprising that one of the Czech Republic’s most admired companies is the renowned shoe retailer and manufacturer, Bata.  The concept of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has been a central philosophy of the company ever since its creation by Tomas Bata in 1894.

Bata is a real corporate treasure of which this nation can be proud, and provides an impressive standard for other companies to follow. It was established with strongly held belief that business is a public trust that should contribute to the well-being of the communities in which it operates.  This tenet still stands at the heart of the company’s business strategy and has earned it an exemplary world-class reputation.
It can accurately be stated that Czechoslovakia was a leader in CSR, thanks to the brilliance of Bata.  Far from fleecing, Bata has been giving ever since its inception.   In contrast to the shame of so much bad business practice, Bata should serve as an inspiration for today’s managers, entrepreneurs and the general public.  In spite of so much bad news, Bata provides a beacon of hope for this country.

In the late 1800s, Bata was a company that was well ahead of its time.  Customer care and the professional development and wellbeing of employees was a key management priority right from the start.  The company established medical facilities, provided educational opportunities, and contributed social and cultural advancement of the Moravian city of Zlin, where it was founded.

Due to Bata's unprecedented innovative approach, Zlín became famous for the company's extraordinary social scheme developed after the First World War and its modernist urbanism.  So impressive it was that Bata’s contribution to the life of Zlín is referenced in business text books throughout the world.

One of its many legacies is the Thomas J. Bata Lecture Series on Responsible Capitalism, established in the memory of the founder’s son, who ensured that his father’s sustainable business principles lived on.  Affectionately known as “Shoemaker to the World”, Tom Bata died at the age of 93 in 2008.  

Earlier this year, the Chief Executive of the global consumer goods company, Unilever, Paul Polman, delivered the series’ third keynote address.

Widely recognised as one of the most inspiring business executives, Mr. Polman devotes a considerable amount of time in telling the corporate world that the future of capitalism requires responsible leaders that manage with a view to long-term sustainability, not just short-term profits.

“The only way to guarantee long-term prosperity is to grow businesses in line with the needs and aspirations of the communities they serve”, said Mr. Polman in his lecture held in Toronto this past February.

“For too long we lost sight of what the Thomas Bata taught us about the right way to approach business and our responsibilities. Their form of capitalism lifted many out of poverty, gave access to education and health care and improved the state of the world,” he added.

Last year’s creation of the Czech Business Council for Sustainable Development is a positive sign that there are corporate leaders in this country that want to promote responsible business practices.  Already, some of the nation’s most enlightened businesses have joined the Council.

It’s time to dispel the Czech reputation for corruption and replace it with a strong commitment to sustainable development and corporate social responsibility.

Maybe we can then look forward to a new tour of Prague’s best businesses, which could be aptly named the No Corruption Tour! 

About the author: Jonathan Wootliff, a former director of Greenpeace International, lives in Prague and works throughout the world as a sustainability consultant to business.  He is a special advisor to the Czech Business Council for Sustainable Development.  He has consulted many large corporations including BP, Colgate-Palmolive, McDonald’s, Procter & Gamble and Whirlpool, and providing counsel to companies on the development of sustainability strategies that benefit the environment, society and business.  Among his many activities, he helps companies to resolve disputes and forge productive relationships with non-governmental organizations.  A qualified journalist with a subsequent background in public relations, Jonathan commonly assists companies with their sustainability communications.  He can be contacted at

Source: Prague Leaders Magazine


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