Trends & Issues

Dutch companies and international CSR

CSR Netherlands works with Dutch SMEs, large companies and NGOs to make trade relationships more sustainable and to create sustainable market opportunities in developing countries and emerging markets.


Developing countries and emerging markets dominate the list of the world’s fastest growing economies. These economies are important potential trading partners for Dutch companies, over 99% of which are SMEs. Almost all Dutch companies are already engaged in business activities in emerging markets and developing countries, either through independent enterprise, or through international trade relations and purchasing activities (e.g. via distributive trade). SME companies who do business directly in developing countries and emerging markets see market opportunities as the main motivating factor.

Rik Wuts of Powerhive, entrepreneur in Kenya and other countries: “I love technology and I want to introduce innovation. I’ve noticed that many innovations in the West are no longer adding much value. There, innovation amounts to little more than old wine in new bottles. Here, you can still add a great deal of value. That’s part of the motivation. Moreover, the opportunities are simply enormous.”

Fer Weerheim of Dutch Plantin, entrepreneur in Ivory Coast: “For Dutch growers, it’s very interesting to work in these areas. If you’re adventurous, there are plenty of opportunities for growth here. In the Netherlands, on the other hand, the limits have been reached on all fronts.”

Sanne Hodzelmans of Smiley Food Kenya, entrepreneur in Kenya: “Back in the Netherlands, I already had some ideas for an organic dairy farm, but they proved difficult to implement. During a holiday in Kenya, I realized: ‘My ideas are possible here!’ And after launching one business, you often run into issues that call for a new business!”

International CSR

A study by CSR Netherlands shows that SMEs doing business directly with developing countries and emerging markets are also actively involved in CSR. They often operate in line with CSR principles and see CSR as the most important market development. Nevertheless, the knowledge of entrepreneurs about their supply chain can be improved: 33% of entrepreneurs doing business indirectly with developing countries or emerging markets have no idea from what country their products or purchases originated; 21% of entrepreneurs who do business directly with developing countries are unable to identify any CSR risk areas in these countries.

Dutch entrepreneurs, who purchase products or do business directly with countries abroad, regularly encounter -either directly or indirectly- CSR risk areas, such as child labour, corruption, forced labour, discrimination, environmental issues, water scarcity and unsafe working conditions. The world map in the CSR Risk Check tool clearly outlines these risk areas.

Ignoring CSR risk areas may harm the reputation of a company or have a negative impact on business operations in the long term. It is advisable, therefore, for entrepreneurs (SMEs as well as large companies) to be aware of the issues that concern their producers and suppliers, and to work together with them to bring about improvements. Similarly, it is advisable for international suppliers and producers to adapt to international CSR standards.

Partnerships & cooperation

The challenges for SMEs are generally the same as those faced by large companies. Granted, there is a difference in the impact on the business (e.g. less risk of damage to reputation for small companies), in the impact on society (much smaller in the case of an individual SME), and in the way SMEs deal – or may deal – with these issues. For instance, SMEs do not always have sufficient resources to afford extensive research into the production chain, certification, or long-term investments. Moreover, SMEs generally have less influence on producers because of their smaller purchasing power. On the other hand, SMEs can operate far more flexibly than large companies, and can also set up fully sustainable business models much faster.

For this very reason, it is important for SMEs to form partnerships with other companies (and NGOs), e.g. through industry initiatives, industry associations and entrepreneurial networks, (such as CSR Netherlands' partner network). Entrepreneurs can participate in symposiums on specific topics, networking events and more intensive programmes. Through cooperation, they can work on their CSR ambitions and improve CSR standards throughout the sector.

Match making & projects

CSR Netherlands matches coalitions of Dutch companies and their counterparts in developing economies in South-America, Africa and Asia. Together they set up profitable business relations while working on important social development goals like job-creation, safer working environments, environmental protection, gender-equality and animal welfare.

Our projects focus on 11 developing economies: Bangladesh, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Peru, Myanmar, Uganda and China. We work in every economic sector from IT to retail, but mainly in agriculture, textiles, leather, urban development, tourism, chemicals and the maritime sector. All our projects are group efforts. Coalitions of companies and stakeholders take on CSR-challenges together.

Companies and stakeholders collaborating on sustainalizing value chains meet online on the Grensverleggers ('pioneers') platform. Community members stay informed on sustainable business opportunities, risk analyses and CSR-projects in developing economies. 

This programme is funded by the Dutch ministry of Foreign Affairs. 

Photo: Powerhive

Laatst bijgewerkt: 
02-03-2017 14:19