Social responsibility and the United Nations: an exploration of the role of the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS)
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The implementation of social responsibility (SR) principles in corporations has given rise to considerable interest and developed into the field commonly known as corporate social responsibility (CSR). However, the application of these principles to not-for-profit international organisations has not been given much attention. This study explores SR in the United Nations (UN) system by using the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) as a case study. Hence, it applies SR to a not-for-profit (NPO) international development organisation. The study uses the social contract theory (SCT) to show that organisations receive benefits under the social contract and have an obligation to reciprocate by acting in society' interest through socially responsible behaviour. By applying the SCT, the study also shows that the UN has the role of creating/promulgating laws or stipulating requirements for society because it is the leader of the 'global society' of nations. Hence, the UN has established various instruments relating to the practice of SR. The study also argues that the concept of the social licence to operate (SLO) is aligned to the application of social responsibility obligations derived from the SCT. Hence, the SLO concept should have wider application to different types of organisations, including NPO international organisations such as the UN. The UN fulfilled its role of establishing SR instruments by putting robust and wide-ranging international laws and agreements in place that influence social well-being. Similarly, SR-related organisational policies in the UNOPS were found to be solid and the organisational mission was found to be grounded in social good. Based on the SR instruments established by the UN, and the related organisational instruments instituted by UNOPS, it is argued that SR addresses four categories, namely i) peace, security and rule of law, ii) human rights and labour rights, iii) governance and ethics, and iv) sustainable development. The study also offers a definition of SR that takes these categories into account in addition to the justification of SR that is derived from the social contract. In addition to a literature review, an empirical study was carried out using in-depth interviews, observations and a review of UNOPS reports. The interviews were based on a semi-structured interview questionnaire. The results from the empirical data showed that the implementation of SR in the day-to-day operations of UNOPS was good in areas such as contributing to peace and security, exerting positive political influence, upholding human rights, implementing good governance, practising transparency, fighting corruption, developing local capacity and contributing to sustainable development. It was also observed that operating in a 'business-like' manner with aggressive financial targets had led to higher productivity and growth but there was a need to balance the drive for financial results with the need to fulfil SR obligations. There was, however, a need to improve the following: labour practices related to the 'equal pay for equal work' principle; better gender and diversity at middle to senior management levels; and ethical considerations in relation to keeping excessive amounts of money above the expected reserves. There was also a need to improve consistency in SR performance based on a more systematic approach rather than relying on the exceptional performance from a few individuals. The lack of consistency showed that there were weaknesses in transforming SR policies into day-to-day practices. Being more systematic and consistent is more likely if improved SR leadership exists in the line management structures. This study also notes that if UNOPS became involved in projects much earlier, it would be better able to exert more SR influence on project funders. The study introduces the idea of development-oriented social responsibility (DSR) and uses empirical evidence from UNOPS to show how an organisation may use SR to contribute to local and international development in line with the UN' international development framework, namely the 2030 Agenda. Using the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and targets under the 2030 Agenda, organisations may choose to undertake projects that contribute to selected development outcomes or may add sustainable development components to existing projects. The study also makes some recommendations for the practice of SR and for topics for future research.
- Humanities 
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