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The Danish Corporate Canvas: Corporate Social Responsibility and the Integration of Danish Immigrants

Almost every corporation nowadays hosts a division on corporate social responsibility. With increasing influence, businesses today are perceived not merely as supplier, manufacturer or retailer but as citizens (albeit artificial ones) behaving like other social members of a community. However, with its growing demand, corporate social responsibility (CSR) is becoming more difficult to define and circumscribe. What exactly are the obligations of corporations to society?
There are many ways of understanding the concept of CSR. The Commission of European Communities defines CSR as a concept whereby companies decide voluntarily to help create a better society. This includes environmental accountability, care for employee’s wellbeing, and philanthropy amongst many other things.

The introduction of CSR in Denmark was the “Our Common Concern” campaign in 1994 launched by the Ministry of Social Affairs. The objective of the initiative was to increase awareness of CSR in Danish business life. The campaign was founded on the premise that social welfare is no longer the sole concern of the public sector, but also the responsibility of employers, citizens, and the local community. Social entities with major influence, therefore, have a role in making improving their communities. Businesses are highly influential in the development of society and they can help prevent marginalization of vulnerable groups by creating an inclusive workplace.

One such vulnerable group includes the newest members of Danish society, the many immigrants from the Middle East, Africa and Asia. Ever since the early 1990s, immigrant groups have faced severe challenges to integrating into Danish society. The result has been marginalization, high unemployment, and an overall disillusioned presence in Denmark. For example, the OECD reports that the ratio of unemployed immigrants to native Danes is approximately 2.25 to 1, well above the OECD average of 1.6. The barriers faced by immigrants in the Danish labor market are all the more troublesome since the process of naturalization and obtaining citizenship requires immigrants to not be dependent on the Danish state—essentially to be employed. Many human rights experts judge the progress of a group’s integration into society based on their success in the labor market and presence in upper management. In this regard, immigrants in Denmark still face severe challenges to successful integration, and remain a vulnerable group in Denmark. 

Thus two trends are discernible in Danish economic life. One is the growing sense of responsibility of the business community in solving social problems voluntarily- CSR. The other is the marginalization of immigrant Danes and their plight to find a foothold in Danish economic life. This begs the question: Do Danish businesses have an obligation to assist in the integration of immigrants in Denmark? If corporate social responsibility entails making a community a more fair and just place, then surely Danish corporations have a role in helping immigrants become equal members of Danish society. Successful integration begins at the workplace. 

Business Models of Integration and CSR

Javid Nazari fled from the Taliban regime in Afghanistan two years ago. He then spent one year seeking asylum in Denmark, later moving to Jutland looking for employment and a new life in Denmark. For people like Mr. Nazari, the process of integration is a bewildering and daunting one to begin.

“When I came to Grundfos, it was the first time I had actually experienced being part of a proper Danish community,” Mr. Nazari tells the Grundfos website. Grundfos is the largest pump manufacturer in the world with approximately 18,000 employees and headquartered in Denmark. The company offers not just employment to Danish immigrant and refugees, but 18 hours a week of Danish lessons. Grundfos, for immigrants like Mr. Nazari, is not just a job but also an entrance to Danish society.
The main purpose of the so-called “Grundfos Project” is to integrate immigrants both in their workplace and the general lifestyle of a Danish citizen. Once the employee has finished the program, which lasts for 12-18 months, he or she receives a certificate, which can then be used at other workplaces. Besides Danish language lessons, the employees may strengthen their working ability by taking courses in other technical professions. Mr. Nazari, for one, plans on taking technical classes, possibly night school, in order to expand his employment possibilities.

Grundfos demonstrates the intersection of the Danish immigration dilemma and corporate social responsibility. In the absence of effective national government programs to help immigrants learn Danish and find employment, Grundfos has taken it upon themselves to do these very tasks. The company understands that employment is the entrance to integration for immigrants and that experience in the workplace provides lessons that translate into comprehensive integration in society at large. For example, on top of providing lessons in Danish language and training for other employment fields, Grundfos instructors evaluate the immigrant students in key criteria of personal skills such as independence, concentration, flexibility, punctuality, work performance and other characteristics essential to professional life in Denmark. Essentially, Grundfos voluntarily shoulders the responsibility to develop immigrant employees into Danish citizens and, in so doing, presents a working model of integration as CSR.

Grundfos is not alone in this endeavor. Several companies now have programs aimed at helping immigrants integrate professionally and socially. The plethora of examples hints at a new mentality amongst Danish businesses that have CSR on their agendas. It reveals a trend that companies realize their responsibility in helping the newest members of Danish society become fully integrated, beginning in the workplace.

Among other Danish companies recognized for their CSR initiatives is TDC, a large telecommunications corporation in Denmark. TDC received the MIA-prize in 2004, in large part because of its Turkish customer service line. This program hires Turkish employees in order to provide services for Turkish-speaking customers, who want to receive help in their own language. This initiative is TDC’s way of combining business activity and social responsibility. Hiring bilingual employees was not solely intended to gain more Turkish customers, but, as the company states on its website, is meant to create a foothold in the labor market for Danes with a Turkish background. This program reveals the company’s strategic use of their diverse workforces, in this specific case the advantage being language skills. TDC does not deny that the business perspective has been their primary focus in implementing the Turkish service line. But what they also emphasize is their concern for their employees’ wellbeing including those who have a different background than Danish. TDC therefore strives for a working environment, which reflects the diverse society that the company is part of. TDC’s motivation of making room for people, who find it difficult to gain a foothold in the Danish labor market, does not only rely on economic motivations, but on the social responsibility aspect as well.

ISS is a leading service company in Denmark, specializing in cooking, cleaning and other industrial services. Over the years, ISS has also proven to be a leading business in the field of CSR. The company currently has 11,000 employees, of whom 40% are of a different ethnic background representing 140 different nations. ISS has been active in developing projects and programs with the aim of helping immigrants to gain a foothold in the labor market and Danish society in general. According to ISS Manager of Recruitment and CSR Jacob Harder, the company has the “goal of upgrading 300 immigrants in leadership positions in the next 4 years”. In order to provide courses on diversity and management skills ISS collaborates with the union ‘New Danes’ in developing training programs. 

This CSR approach is seen in three different initiatives the company has implemented in the past few years. One is a Center for diversity where the main focus is to strengthen the ethnic employees’ competences and working skills with the goal of eventual promotion. In practice, Harder regards mentorship as the primary tool, where managers with ethnic backgrounds help their subordinates who have the potential of becoming managers. The dialogue and sharing of experiences are invaluable in this process. For many years ISS has been collaborating with local municipalities in establishing and running the Centre of Job Development. The purpose of this initiative is to employ people with limited means. Additionally, ISS also works with refugees in Denmark. The company tutors rejected asylum seekers in order to secure repatriation when they go back to their own countries. What ISS does in practice is teach asylum seekers how to run a business. According to Harder, “it is a critical point to us (ISS) that the asylum seekers should be able to work in Denmark.”

These initiatives demonstrate that the company feels an obligation to help their immigrant employees settle in Denmark by integrating through the workplace. For these workers, they are not only employed but can even climb up the corporate hierarchy. In Harder’s opinion “immigrants are competing on an equal level with our Danish employees,” highlighting the effectiveness of the ISS model. But to reach the point of equal opportunity at workplaces, he also emphasized the challenges and barriers that need to be overcome. He uses the metaphor of a hurdle race competition, where one could imagine the immigrants in one lane and the Danes in the others: “It is like they (immigrants) always have to jump higher and there are not as many people cheering on the other side.” Therefore, the ISS ethos stresses the obligation to its many immigrant employees, which manifest themselves in these various programs. 

Harder also maintains that ISS does more than just fulfils its required legal obligations (non-discriminatory practices, fair labor practices, etc.). The company’s responsibility for caring for its employees’ wellbeing goes beyond securing the minimum wage or the full vacation time, but includes social support in different ways like “helping someone with their divorce paper, picking up the children from school, because maybe the husband is drunk etc.” The ‘red line’ in ISS’s CSR policy is that all their social responsibility activities have to be closely connected to the core of their business. Harder thinks that giving money to launch CSR campaigns or projects without any connection with the company’s business is weak or meaningless. “So CSR for us (ISS) right now would be immigrant workers, social issues and work environment because this is so closely tied to what we do”. 
And for companies like ISS, TDC, Grundfos and others, integration of immigrants as CSR is at the very core of their business ethos. These companies represent working models of how the workplace is often the gateway into larger Danish society. They exemplify Danish corporate obligation to improving the status of Danish immigrants, and subsequently the whole of Danish society.                    

Human Rights Perspective and CSR

These examples from the business community convey that Danish corporate social responsibility may, in fact, include the integration of immigrant communities. But the reality in Danish society illustrates a far different picture of social cohesion. The Migration Integration Policy Index has ranked Denmark seventh from last in its 2007 assessment of 25 European and North American nation’s integration policies. The Index gave it a “slightly unfavorable” rating on labor market access and an “unfavorable” rating in anti-discrimination policies. The report also revealed that non-EU citizens in Denmark have an unemployment rate 8.3 percentage points higher than Danish nationals. 

Additionally, the companies mentioned above hire largely immigrants for low-skilled, service sector employment, jobs with the lowest wages and most vulnerable to job cutbacks during a recession. While some companies have taken initiatives that go far to integrate immigrant Danes, Danish society still has a long way to go in ensuring the equality of all its members. It is evident that integration cannot be the burden of a few large companies.

From a human rights perspective, Denmark presents a very interesting model of integration. Susanna Nour, the diversity director of the human rights and business department at the Danish Institute for Human Rights explains that much of the lack of progress in integration of immigrants in Denmark can be linked to the Scandinavian model of citizenship. This “universal egalitarian model” stipulates that “Danes are only equal when they are all alike.” In this model, there are very high taxes, robust social security and economic compensation, guaranteeing limited gaps in wealth. However, Mrs. Nour asserts that this model is “the very worst at integrating immigrants.” Perceived outsiders to the system are ostracized and denied the full benefits of high living standards of the Danish welfare system. 

The response to sluggish integration from the human rights community has been to place attention on fighting discrimination. If companies simply give up their prejudice, if employers disavow their preconceived notions of minorities and hire applicants solely on merit, then integration will no longer be such a troubling issue. The obligation is to, therefore, follow the law, which means not discriminating in hiring and in the workplace. The social duty on the part of companies is not to preferentially hire the most needy workers (quite frequently immigrants who need jobs to gain citizenship) but to merely follow the law. 

It is not possible for human rights groups to force companies to employ the most needed workers. The first priority, as of now, is ensuring Danish businesses follow the law in using non-discriminatory hiring practices. After all, as the Migrant Integration Policy Index states, “Anti-discrimination law (in Denmark) is enforced through slightly weak mechanisms, since, for example, the equality body cannot help victims or stand in court on their behalf.” Policies such as this resulted in Denmark being placed second to last in “equality policies” out of the 28 European and North American countries surveyed. Therefore, the focus for the time being must be general compliance with anti-discrimination legislation before more demanding concepts of integration can be pursued.

This illustration strongly contradicts the model presented by Grundfos, TDC, ISS and other companies that have taken it upon themselves to integrate immigrant employees. Do a handful of companies, who view integration as a part of CSR, reveal a trend or an aberration in Danish business? Are they ahead of the curve or niche do-gooders? Certainly these companies cannot be said to be representative of the Danish corporate world. If they were, surely the Ministry of Integration would not have established a new office of radicalization to monitor disillusioned ethnic Danish youth. If Danish businesses were truly seeking an inclusive means of hiring, then highly educated ethnic Danes would not be losing faith in the country (as Mrs. Nour revealed they were) many of whom have decided to leave Denmark. 

In fact, many of these companies are in the position to help immigrants because of the industries they are in. Corporations like ISS, Grundfos and TDC operate in services that rely on an immigrant work pool due in large part to the labor shortage in Denmark. Mr. Harder argues that immigrants are “the work pool that we have access to right now. And this will be the work pool we have access to for the next 20 or 30 years.” Hiring diversely at ISS is “really solving what for us is a European problem, not having enough hands.” While ISS does much for the immigrant community and its immigrant workers, employing people from a non-Danish background is often a necessity in the dearth of service sector labor. 

So the question must be asked if integration of immigrant Danes is yet on the corporate agenda and the business world’s view of CSR. The struggle for the time being from the human rights perspective is ensuring that companies are non-discriminatory and abide by the present legislation. This is in fact not CSR. Corporate social responsibility presupposes voluntary action by companies to make their communities better. It implies, as Mr. Harder argues, a core belief in making one’s business not simply profitable but beneficial for workers, consumers and society in general. A true integration approach to CSR would result in a Denmark markedly different than the one seen today. 

A CSR Approach to Integration

What is necessary in Danish business is a reform of mentality. The perception on the part of businesses to integrate immigrants through the labor market, as an obligation to Danish society, must be adopted. Ultimately, the plight of immigrants in Denmark must become an integral part of corporate social responsibility.

Stepping into the field of CSR can be quite challenging for businesses because decision-making within this area are mostly based on corporations’ voluntary prerogatives and the codes of conduct they choose to adopt. Another challenge is for medium and small sized corporations who lack the time and money to be more social responsibility. However, in order to create an inclusive workplace and an inclusive society, it is essential that other Danish companies are willing to implement some of the CSR initiatives like the above-mentioned companies. They should do so to the extent that it is possible for them to do. Businesses should strive to be more creative in their ways of developing new CSR programs, utilizing new projects and tools for managing diversity and exploiting the potential within a diverse workforce. Multiculturalism may never be idealistically realized in Denmark, but it is necessary for the business community to try and achieve a working multicultural model. 

Danish businesses should strive to replicate the programs of ISS, Grundfos TDC and others. There should be more workplace accommodations to languages, seen in the Turkish call-centers at TDC. There should be more policies of promotion for minority workers, such as that at ISS. Workplaces should be places of learning about new cultures and languages, such as they are at Grundfos. The example of Grundfos is especially useful because it provides an example of local government-business collaboration as the company works alongside the municipality of Bjerringbro to help integrate immigrants through the workplace. This is a model that should be replicated with smaller businesses, which often lack the resources to provide language or cultural lessons. Businesses need to reform their very structure so as to incorporate the needs of immigrant workers into their organizations, and if they cannot do so then they require assistance from the government.

New concepts of integration at the workplace could also be utilized. Due to fact that companies have different approaches to CSR and experiences with hiring immigrants and tackling diverse issues, the companies should consider a more collaborative approach among themselves. While some are ahead in the field of CSR, others still struggle to accomplish anti-discriminatory legislation. Therefore, companies should establish a network, where managers can share their knowledge and experiences of working with integrating immigrants at workplaces. What companies need to do in practice is establish a kind of a program, where managers and subordinates from different companies and cultures sit together and discuss the issues concerning diversity at workplace, religion, nationality, integration, cultural differences, language barriers etc. By focusing on issues related to cultural, ethnic and national differences in everyday work life, a new dialogue is established, which can be helpful for breaking down barriers between employees and eliminating prejudice. Furthermore, participants in the program should have the opportunity to visit each other’s workplaces in order to gain better understanding of what kinds of problems managers and subordinates in each company are facing. Dialogue, mutual respect and understanding are some of the key, factors needed in order to establish an inclusive workplace. 

What is needed most of all is a new corporate mentality in Denmark. Corporate social responsibility must be an everyday part of business, and in this daily approach should be the principles of inclusiveness and diversity. The business community of Denmark has the possibility of alleviating, if not solving, the integration dilemma in Danish society today. But for this to happen, corporations must turn their workplaces into sites of integration, to make immigrant workers feel like equal members of Danish society.         
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HIA Program:

Denmark Denmark 2008


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