The Responsible Business Forum, Smart Kolektiv and USAID awarded the Most Inclusive Employer Award for the first time to companies focused on creating a work environment where all employees have equal opportunities for advancement and feel included and accepted in all aspects of work. The main award for strategic approach, implemented practices, partnership, and leadership went to Delhaize SerbiaIKEA Serbia received special recognition for its strategic approach to the development of diversity, equality, and inclusion in the work environment, while special recognition for leadership and partnership went to Delta Holding.

“In our company, which employs around 13,000 associates and operates more than 500 retail outlets with over half a million people passing through them daily, there is no dimension of diversity that is not part of our everyday life. We strive to be 100 percent inclusive, to reflect the market 100 percent, and to be 100 percent gender-balanced,” stated Marko Babić, Vice President for Human Resources and Organizational Development at Delhaize Serbia. He added that in the company, 50 percent of women are employed in managerial positions, and they engage more than 250 persons with disabilities daily. “We have created an environment where every voice is heard, where traditionally marginalized groups can participate, and where everyone can progress.”

“This is a good opportunity to address the economy and sustainable development, and the Forum is an important part of our Agenda 2030, where the issue of inclusion is an open question as one of the goals. Companies are expected to conduct socially responsible business, respect equality, take care of environmental protection, all with the aim of ensuring that no one is left behind,” stated Peer Krumrey, Counsellor for Labour and Social Affairs, Embassy of Federal Republic of Germany to the Republic of Serbia, emphasizing the importance of intersectoral collaboration. “All companies, regardless of their size, should make efforts to bring about change, and we must support them in this endeavor.”

“Switzerland is committed to advancing corporate governance principles, as sustainable development goals cannot be achieved without the corporate sector. Switzerland provides support to Serbia and countries in the region in achieving these goals by collaboratively creating a more conducive environment for investments, promoting the modernization and development of new technologies for both companies and small and medium-sized enterprises,” stated Richard Kohli, Director of the Swiss Cooperation Office at the Embassy of Switzerland in Serbia. He added that Switzerland, together with the European Union and the World Bank, is making additional efforts to achieve the goals of the Green Agenda and its five pillars. Kohli urged the corporate sector to actively participate in this process, dialogue, sustainable development platforms, and maintain collaboration with other sectors.

“Together, we must help more companies and institutions understand that employing people with disabilities is not just the right thing to do but is also good for their workplaces. So, I am extremely pleased that we are highlighting so many forward-thinking companies and institutions today, which have prioritized diversifying their workforces and being inclusive. I hope your examples will inspire everyone to follow in your footsteps”, in this regard, Todd Andrews, Acting USAID Serbia Mission Director, stated.

“The Forum remains a crucial event for all stakeholders interested in CSR and ESG issues in this region, and every year we strive to have a special focus. I am particularly pleased that, together with the Youth with Disabilities Forum and other partners, we are dedicated to the inclusion of persons with disabilities. Although there is still room for improvement in this important area, we now have a critical mass of companies that have placed inclusion at a very high and strategic level on their agendas, as this year’s event demonstrates,” said Neven Marinović, director of the Responsible Business Forum.

The CSR & ESG Forum brought together experts in sustainable development and socially responsible business who presented current solutions and trends in these areas, with a focus on diversity and inclusion. The responsibility for accepting all vulnerable groups in society lies in all sectors, but the role of companies and the business sector in this domain is invaluable. This is one of the key messages of the CSR & ESG Forum (a forum dedicated to corporate social responsibility and the integration of environmental, social, and governance criteria into business and investment decisions) held on December 12 in Belgrade.

This year’s CSR & ESG Forum conference was supported by the “Job Fit: Economic Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities” project funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented by the Youth with Disabilities Forum. Other project partners are the Ana and Vlade Divac Foundation, Caritas of Serbia, Smart Kolektiv and the Center for Independent Living of Persons with Disabilities. The conference is further supported by the “Sustainable Development for All” platform supported by the Governments of Switzerland and Germany, and implemented by Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH as part of the Public Finance Reform Project – Agenda 2030.  The conference friends are Coca Cola HBC Serbia, Ahold Delhaize Serbia, Elixir Group and Heineken Serbia. The ESG Conference Patron is Erste Bank Novi Sad. The media partners of the conference are Bizlife, Održi meNew Economy, InStore and Daily Green.