Megan Gell
Apr 30, 2018

Carlson Wagonlit Travel on responsible business practices

The company's responsible business ambassador for Asia Pacific discusses the importance of executive support, country ownership and long-term partnerships.

CWT employees participate in the Breast Cancer Foundation Pink Ribbon Walk in Singapore.
CWT employees participate in the Breast Cancer Foundation Pink Ribbon Walk in Singapore.

Carlson Wagonlit Travel (CWT) has received its second successive Gold rating for its responsible business programme from EcoVadis, an independent corporate social responsibility (CSR) agency.

EcoVadis uses a methodology that rates companies according to 21 CSR criteria, grouped under four themes: environment, labour, fair business practices and sustainable procurement. CWT’s performance in each of these four themes was evaluated looking at policies, actions and results.

CEI Asia talks to CWT's global programme director Kerstin Sautter, who also serves as the company's responsible business ambassador for Asia Pacific.

How did CWT begin its responsible business programme?

We'd done good work for a long time, but it was not really formalised or structured and initiatives in various countries were not really connected. In 2012 we changed that and CWT formalised its global responsible business programme (RBP).

The first step was to sign the UN Global Compact, a voluntary corporate responsibility initiative. We began to align our practices and operations to its principles around human rights, labour, environment and anti-corruption.

We also created our own RBP at that time. We have a VP for responsible business based in Paris and she has a team of three project managers who work together to set the programme and its structure, and then put that into action globally.

The programme covers seven main areas: responsible business governance, ethics and business behaviour, community involvement, human rights, human resources, responsible product and services, and environment.

What have been the keys to the programme's success?

When we first started off we had good support from our CEO and the executive leadership team that helped us boost the programme, keep the momentum going and roll it out. Also, we always had a roadmap outlining what we want to achieve in each of these seven areas.

The EcoVadis certification has also always been really important. We started with really low scores, it's quite a detailed process and you have to submit a lot of documents. We couldn't expect big scores when we were just starting to put a programme together.

We didn't have a global structure in place, we didn't have global objectives and we didn't have any people in the company dedicated in that area. But it also helped us to define our objectives because the results they share are very in-depth as well.

We went from low scores to having a Bronze Certification, to Silver Certification, and last year we received the Gold Certification, and then again for the second time this year. This means we're among the top 1% best performing companies worldwide according to EcoVadis.

Breast Cancer Foundation volunteers sorting out charity tickets.

And how has the programme been rolled out in Asia Pacific?

We kicked off in Asia Pacific in January 2014 by creating a team in Singapore, which is our Asia headquarters. The APAC responsible business team is made up of around 10 volunteers who do it on top of their day job because they are passionate about the cause.

They organise a lot of initiatives for the Singapore office and for the Singapore community, and also support other regional offices. We have one responsible business correspondent in every market. We also provide one day of annual volunteer leave to all of our employees across the region so they can take time off to participate in local initiatives.

What are some current initiatives?

Last year a focus was to build more long-term relationships with organisations who are beneficiaries. We realised we can make a bigger impact if we choose a few organisations we want to work with on an ongoing basis.

There are two I would mention specifically. The first is here in Singapore, Willing Hearts Soup Kitchen. We work with them throughout the year with regular volunteering and team-building, and in August last year held a Music for Meals concert performed by our in-house band that raised S$10,000 (US$7,560).

The second example is the Breast Cancer Foundation. They have regular volunteer opportunities, fundraising walks and runs and we help them prepare or staff their information booths. This is a cause that impacts many, including one of our colleagues in Australia.

How do the specific markets get involved?

The global programme is a framework to set priorities and objectives, and we have global campaigns, but it's always been important to us to have countries choose their own causes and beneficiaries.

Asia is so diverse, communities are facing very different challenges so it was always important that each country make their own choices and to ensure that the employees in that office are passionate about the cause and happy to volunteer their time. We don't want to make them support anything they don't have a relationship with.

For example, in the Philippines, we have a very big office in Manila that provides solar lights to rural underprivileged communities who would otherwise use kerosene lamps, which are very bad for their health and for the environment as well. Staff took a day-long journey earlier this year to the communities to distribute the solar lights and other items.

CWT employees volunteer at the Willing Hearts soup kitchen in Singapore.

Internally, what are some of the responsible business practices that you've introduced?

We created a new code of business ethics and conduct and two new task forces at the end of last year. One is a global anti-human trafficking taskforce sponsored by members of our executive leadership team. The second is diversity and inclusion.

Has there been interest in the programme from suppliers and clients?

Definitely, the topic is getting more important on both sides. On the supplier side, our industry partners, participate in community involvement initiatives such as volunteering at Willing Hearts Soup Kitchen in Singapore.

And on the other side we see that it's becoming more and more important for our clients and prospects. On many RFPs we see questions around our RBP and the practices and policies we have in place.

I do a lot of client reviews and meetings and it's quite interesting that once you open up the topic a lot of companies share what they do and that we share the same values – and that's really important.

What's next?

Another focus for this year is responsible events. Last year we began to offset emissions for our top five major internal and external events by purchasing carbon credits. This year we want a bigger focus on that for team meetings and smaller internal meetings also – planning in a more responsible way to avoid a lot of these emissions being created in the first place and if not, offsetting.


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