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Kingfisher is Europe's largest home improvement retailer, with 1,300 stores and 9,000 employees in 16 countries. Its operating companies include BCC (The Netherlands), Promarkt (Germany), Vanden Borre (Belgium), Darty (France), Comet (UK), B&Q (UK), Koçtas (Turkey) and Réno-Dépôt (Canada).

In 2001 the group achieved a turnover of £12.1 billion ($17.5 billion) and a pre-tax profit of £606 million ($878 million).

At the end of 2001, Kingfisher unveiled a group-wide initiative to monitor, improve and report on corporate social responsibility issues at the level of individual companies.

The group has identified six ways in which it believes CSR can help its business:

  1. Being ready for the future: identifying and managing issues which have the potential to affect the bottom line, either positively or negatively;
  2. Respect for people: making Kingfisher companies attractive places to work, and thereby retaining skilled staff;
  3. Stores that communities welcome: maximizing customer loyalty and improving morale among the workforce;
  4. Product innovation: identifying 'green' products that consumers will want to buy;
  5. Saving costs: recognizing that many CSR initiatives are largely good housekeeping, such as reducing waste and retaining staff more effectively;
  6. Brand: using innovation and excellence within individual operating companies to enhance the reputation of the group as a whole.

Kingfisher has devised a 'ladder' model to simplify the assessment of CSR within operating companies. The ladder has four rungs. The bottom rung is 'Managing the risk', and the next rung up is 'Managing the issues', followed by 'Creating an opportunity' and finally 'Leadership' at the top. Company managers will have to decide where their businesses currently stand on each of 12 separate 'ladders', each representing a key issue such as waste, climate change or community relations (see below). They are also asked to identify where they would like eventually to be on the ladder, and to propose a realistic timescale.

These action plans are due for completion by the end of April 2002, and a group-wide CSR report will be published in the spring of 2003.

The CSR initiative will be co-ordinated by a nine-person 'social responsibility committee', which now includes include six members of the main board of directors as well as Kingfisher's head of social responsibility, Dr Alan Knight. A' social responsibility team', working closely with the committee, will provide coaching and advice to managers within individual operating companies, and will also be responsible for reporting progress both internally and to the outside world.

One of the challenges for Kingfisher is to develop a strategy that is flexible enough to accommodate the differences between individual businesses yet strong enough to reflect a common vision.

Kingfisher's definition of social responsibility entails 'making sure that in helping our customers improve their quality of life we do not destroy someone else's'. It adds: 'That might mean improving the working conditions in the factories that make the products we sell, using renewable energy sources, or making sure our equal opportunities policies are robust.'

Group chief executive Sir Geoff Mulcahy says several of Kingfisher's subsidiaries have been active in CSR for some years already, particularly in terms of environmental stewardship. 'We believe it is now time to co-ordinate these activities more rigorously, at group level.'

The 12 key issues identified by Kingfisher

  • The way we treat all our people is becoming more important than ever
  • Every product will soon be telling a story - and they will all need to be good
  • Communities will reject businesses who are not good neighoburs
  • Our suppliers need to be cleaner and greener too
  • We are selling more wood, but it is becoming harder to find
  • Chemicals are causing increasing concern and controversy
  • We need to plan what happens when our customers want to dispose of the products they bought from us
  • Packaging waste will become a bigger financial waste
  • We will be judged by the way the people who make our products are treated
  • Moving more stock is good - more traffic congestion is bad
  • Climate change equals changes to homes - appliances will change too
  • When we throw rubbish away it takes our profits with it

Read more about: Corporate social responsibility (CSR), Corporate reporting
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