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water firms tap into CSR

April 2003

Some of the largest UK water companies have come together to commission research on how they can improve their ethical performance.

The companies have ordered the work through their trade association, Water UK, which wants to produce the industry’s first collective statement on corporate social responsibility. Water UK members include AWG, Scottish Water, Severn Trent, Thames Water, Three Valleys Water, United Utilities and Wessex Water.

The Corporate Edge consultancy will carry out stakeholder dialogue with non-governmental organizations, government, trade unions and financial institutions on behalf of the companies over the next few weeks, and then publish a document at the end of May giving ‘a national picture on corporate social responsibility in the water industry’.

Water UK says it wants ‘to encourage continual improvement in the sector and help identify new areas of activity’ as well as to ‘promote CSR within the industry and raise awareness of current practice with stakeholders’.

Corporate Edge will talk to stakeholders about issues such as community engagement, biodiversity and social exclusion. The companies are particularly interested in developing ways to tackle financial exclusion by helping customers in difficulty with their water bills.

Other outcomes of the initiative are likely to be a collection of best practice case studies across the industry and a statement of ‘the core elements of CSR that are relevant to water companies’.

Although Water UK says avoidance of future regulation on CSR ‘is not at the forefront of our minds in this initiative’, Rebecca Collings, head of CSR at Corporate Edge, added that ‘taking ownership now will avoid regulation in the future’.

Barrie Clarke, director of communication at Water UK, said reputation had been the main spur. ‘Collectively our companies have to raise huge amounts of money through borrowing to pay for infrastructure improvements, and we need the best possible reputation to be able to continue doing that.’ Clarke added that progress on CSR within the industry might also help make customers more sympathetic if prices had to rise in future.

The UK water industry has a turnover of £6.5billion ($10.3bn) and employs 44,000 people.




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