Helio Mattar -- A catalyst for corporate social responsibility in Brazil

Over the course of his distinguished career, Brazil's Helio Mattar has been a prominent force for social and economic equity at home and abroad. A former corporate CEO and government minister, Mattar now serves as president of two Brazilian NGOs: the Abrinq Foundation for the Rights of Children (www.fundacaoabrinq.org.br), and the Akatu Institute for Conscious Consumption (www.akatu.net). He is also a founder of the Ethos Institute for Business and Social Responsibility (www.ethos.org.br).

Mattar is a member of the World Economic Forum's Global Foundation Leaders Advisory Group, and has been a featured participant in Synergos events such as University for a Night, the Global Philanthropists Circle annual meeting in 2003 and GPC country visits to Brazil. In the Schwab Foundation's upcoming global summit on the future of social entrepreneurship November 4-6 in São Paulo, he will take part in a panel on the impact of government policies on social innovation and entrepreneurship (www.schwabfound.org/global.htm).

Mattar recently spoke to Global Giving Matters about the growing corporate social responsibility movement in Brazil, and the key role being played by the Ethos and Akatu Institutes in moving that agenda forward.

Global Giving Matters: What was the state of corporate social responsibility when you founded Ethos Institute?

Helio Mattar: Ethos was founded in February 1998 by a group of five businessmen with the leadership of Oded Grajew, now President of Ethos and a founder of the World Social Forum. Corporate social responsibility was not known as such at that time.

The most responsible companies were investing their private resources to support work in the social arena, either through their own efforts, or through some NGO, and already had a perception that, in order to have any socially transforming impact, it was necessary to invest with a long-term vision. Others, were investing on a case-by-case basis, with no long-term vision. There was no unifying vision of their relationship to stakeholders and the question of a code of conduct, and values and principles were still very rare at that point in time.

GGM: Has the movement caught on since then? What are some of the highlights in this regard?

Mattar: The movement has certainly caught on since then. When Ethos started, we had only 11 companies associated. Nowadays, Ethos is an association of about 850 companies, with sales that correspond to the value of 35% of the Brazilian National Product.

In my view, it was essential for the movement to catch the interest of the media to give positive visibility to the early leaders of CSR. The most important business magazine in Brazil, for instance, started a special issue on "good corporate citizenship" and gave visibility to the best companies. Ethos also developed a mechanism called Indicators of Social Responsibility (available on the Ethos website -- www.ethos.org.br), that could be used to evaluate the performance of companies in this regard.

GGM: What are the greatest challenges to effective CSR in Brazil right now?

Mattar: In my view, the greatest challenge is to involve consumers and investors in the process of valuing companies, taking social responsibility into consideration. In Brazil, both groups are already very sensitive to the role of companies not only as productive agents, but also as important social agents.

For instance, when asked about the role of large companies, 44% of Brazilian consumers say that in addition to producing goods and services, generating employment, and paying taxes, companies should be guided by higher ethical standards, going beyond what is demanded by law, and actively contributing to the development of society.

This suggests that consumers already have a perception that the enormous power of companies carries enormous responsibility. And, according to research of the Akatu Institute, consumers are willing to punish or to reward companies based on their social responsibility activities.

In order to deepen consumers and investors perceptions, Akatu was started within Ethos three years ago. Akatu's mission is to educate and mobilize people to be more conscious in their consumption -- to recognize that they have the power to choose which companies to buy from on the basis of demonstrations of corporate social responsibility.

More recently, another institution was started by Ethos, called UniEthos, to build capacity for social responsibility. UniEthos works with managers in the corporate sector on the concept and practice of CSR. The aim is to develop methods and technologies that may be transferred to universities and consulting firms in order to help promote CSR in Brazil.

GGM: Your work with Akatu seems very complementary with the work of Ethos Institute. By raising consumer consciousness of the value of sustainable goods and services, for example, you can help keep the pressure on the business community to respond to the demand. Was this deliberate on your part in founding Akatu and Ethos?

Mattar: Indeed, it was deliberate that the same group of businessmen who co-founded Ethos three years ago decided to found Akatu. My perception was that there would be a limit in the investment of time, energy and money in CSR on the part of companies, if the consumers and investors did not consider CSR as important as price, quality, distribution, innovation and service in their purchase and investment decisions.

Akatu is working on a system that will enable companies to show what they are doing in the area of corporate social responsibility, using the present state of CSR in Brazil as a reference point. In this way, the best companies will have an opportunity to demonstrate to consumers that they have a higher than average CSR and be rewarded for that.

As a follow up to this work, we are doing research to identify what issues in CSR are most important to consumers and create a scale that would allow companies to be categorized in four or five different groups according to their performance in CSR. The aim is to provide a mechanism for consumers to compare companies and to take CSR into consideration in their acts of consumption and investment.

GGM: Ethos Institute took part in the Global Compact Leaders Summit in New York in June 2004. Can you describe the Institute's involvement in this effort?

Mattar: Ethos became active early on in the Global Compact as part of a strategy to involve Brazilian companies on a global basis in CSR. There will be no corporate social responsibility movement if it is not a global movement. Toward this end, Ethos was able to have more than 200 Brazilian companies committed to the Global Compact in the first year of its operation. In June, Ethos participated in the New York summit, reported on developments in Brazil, and helped establish the Global Compact's tenth commitment in the area of corruption (www.unglobalcompact.org).