It was not too long ago that "Corporate Social Responsibility", or CSR was considered as the key indicator in judging a company's responsibility for society in the sense of sustainable business practices. However, in recent times, Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance (ESG) has emerged as three central factors in measuring the sustainability and societal impact of an investment in a company or business. Starting from Fortune 500 companies to new startups, investors are now considering ESG ratings as key indicators in determining future financial performances (return and risk).
To mark the occasion of sustainability day, it is therefore befitting to highlight some of the benchmark ESG initiatives practiced by one of the leading multinationals in Bangladesh. Having a rich heritage of 110 years operation in the country, British American Tobacco Bangladesh (also known as BAT Bangladesh or BATB) has been the pioneer of several ESG initiatives which are contributing directly towards supporting the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals i.e. SDGs in Bangladesh.
Considered to be one of the pioneer CSR initiatives in Bangladesh, 'Bonayan' the flagship afforestation program of BATB, was initiated in 1980 with the collaboration of the government's Forest Department to combat the climate change impact. This largest private-sector driven afforestation program has distributed over 110 million saplings of medicinal, fruits and timber varieties, across the country over the last 40 years of its journey. Every year, the Bonayan programme distributes approximately 4-5 million saplings free of cost to diverse beneficiaries.
Bonayan is also helping to bring an environmental as well as social balance to the community landscape in Bangladesh, through some notable afforestation projects at Lalon Shah Bridge, Hazrat Shah Amanat International Airport, Lama Alikadam highway, Rohingya Camp, Mirinja point – Lama, Kushtia-Jessore highway, GK project, Jamuna Bridge, Kushtia by-pass road etc. For its exemplary contribution, Bonayan has been awarded the prestigious 'Prime Minister's National Award' four times and the 'Chief Advisor's National Award' once, alongside the numerous District/Upazila level awards received every year. This initiative has also been recognized internationally through the renowned "Asia Responsible Entrepreneurship Award" on Green Leadership by Enterprise Asia.
Over the last 40 years, 'Bonayan' has created many life-changing stories. A lot of beneficiaries received support from the 'Bonayan' initiative when they were unemployed. After receiving the saplings free of cost, they eventually generated enough revenue to combat their financial crisis and helped their families to live a better life. There are also many inspiring stories of poor female beneficiaries who received the free saplings from the 'Bonayan' program, nurtured the trees like their children and eventually managed to earn a living by selling fruits and wood, ensured schooling for children, successfully married off their children and also built 'pukka' houses for themselves. In driving such positive changes across the society and environment, 'Bonayan' directly supports the government's agenda regarding SDGs: Goal#1 (No Poverty), Goal#2 (Zero Hunger), Goal#11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities), Goal#13 (Climate Action) and Goal#15 (Life on Land).
Another of BAT Bangladesh's flagship initiatives 'Probaho' supports communities across Bangladesh by providing safe drinking water, free from arsenic and other impurities. This project was initiated in 2009 and till date comprises of more than 100 water filtration plants in arsenic prone areas like Kushtia, Jhenaidah, Meherpur, Rangpur, Manikganj etc. and in Chittagong Hill Tracts areas like Bandarban. 'Probaho' ensures 460,000 liters of pure drinking water to 225,000 beneficiaries every day. As a result, 99.7% people from the beneficiary communities do not suffer from arsenic or other diseases, according to an impact assessment study report. 'Probaho' compliments the Government's targets to achieve SDGs: Goal#6 (Clean Water and Sanitation) along with Goal#1 (No Poverty) and Goal#3 (Good Health and Well-being). As a recognition for the outstanding contribution to the society, 'Probaho' has also received the prestigious 'Asia Responsible Entrepreneurship Award' in 2015 and the Bangladesh Innovation Award 2018 by the Bangladesh Brand Forum.
To support the Bangladesh Government's efforts in promoting the renewable energy sector, BATB initiated it's third CSR project 'Deepto' in 2011 to support communities across off-grid areas in Chittagong Hill Tracts. Under Deepto, BATB has till date supplied 2,590 units of solar home systems across remote villages of Bandarban, Khagrachari and Rangamati districts. This initiative has enabled and empowered the communities to improve their lifestyle through quality education and various income generating activities. More than 13,000 people got their first access to electricity at home through this project. 'Deepto' is aligned with SDGs: Goal#1 (No Poverty), Goal#4 (Quality Education), Goal # 7 (Affordable & Clean Energy) and Goal#8 (Decent Work & Economic Growth). For all its contribution, this project has also won the acclaimed 'Asia Responsible Entrepreneurship Award' in 2018.
Alongside these premier CSR initiatives, BAT Bangladesh also focuses on several projects and campaigns for environmental (soil, water, air) protection and conservation. Establishment of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) club is one remarkable initiative that the company has undertaken in early 2000s to support around 35,000 farmers. BATB has set up 75 IPM clubs across the country to popularize the IPM practices among the farmers in order to support the agenda of the Department of Agricultural Extension's (DAE) under the Ministry of Agriculture. Every year, 12 Farmers Field School (FFS) sessions are organized in collaboration with DAE. Apart from IPM, several other Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) such as green manuring with Dhaincha (Sesbania), crop rotation, enhancing crop intensity, usage of compost and bio-fertilizers over chemicals etc. have been introduced among farming communities in recent years. Another notable project named 'Surokkha' to combat agrochemical waste management has also been initiated recently.
As a responsible company BATB has also taken up some challenging environmental targets in the areas of carbon emission and the elimination of single use plastics. BAT Group aims to become the benchmark in achieving carbon neutrality by 2030 through reduction in energy consumption, usage of renewable energy sources, reduction in factory waste discharge etc. The elimination of unnecessary single use plastic is also a key agenda for the business in the coming years.
All remarkable ESG practices tend to fade away if proper governance and compliance is not ensured. In this aspect, BAT Bangladesh has proudly set the benchmark for excellence in corporate governance which is reflected through the recognitions and awards the company receives every year both nationally and internationally. Some of the notable awards the company is bestowed with regularly, comprises of the 'Highest Tax-payer' award, ICSB Corporate Governance Award, ICMAB Award, SAFA award for best presented Annual Report etc.
As a company, BATB believes that at the core of all the outstanding ESG initiatives are its employees, who are responsible for passionately driving the agenda forward. Furthermore, BATB acknowledges the strength from diversity and passionately drives for empowering women at all levels. The company ensures gender equality and female-friendly workplace through various initiatives such as 9 months' maternity leave, own day-care center (Angel's Nest), respect in workplace, grievance mechanism, celebratory culture and many more. Recent years has also seen the company become proud recipients of the 'Top Employer in Bangladesh' award and the 'Most Women Friendly Organization' award which strongly compliments the company's ESG agenda.
BAT Bangladesh is relentlessly working to create a step change in ensuring sustainability through its robust ESG initiatives. The company wishes to create a benchmark in ESG practices which can act as a source of inspiration for others to follow. BATB wishes to continue supporting the Bangladesh Government's agenda of achieving the SDGs and collectively aim for a better tomorrow.