DFDS: Approaching CSR in a global environment

By Ollie Mulkerrins
DFDS is a ferry and logistics company with its headquarters in Copenhagen, Denmark. The firm provides transport for freight and passengers across Europe...

DFDS is a ferry and logistics company with its headquarters in Copenhagen, Denmark. The firm provides transport for freight and passengers across Europe, including Turkey, and has an extensive network that ranges from the UK to Scandinavia and the Baltic. Sofie Hebeltoft, Head of CSR at DFDS, has managed the best practices of DFDS’s departments worldwide during her time in the role. “I'm responsible for CSR on a group level, which means I focus on creating the best conditions for sustainability in our business,” she says. “We’re operating across a variety of markets so it’s not easy to create a one-size-fits-all solution. I try to enable us to do our best, depending on the varying conditions that we operate under and increase awareness of CSR and sustainability in all that we do.”

There has been a global culture shift regarding attitudes towards sustainability and companies’ social responsibility. The public has become increasingly aware of the urgency and attention that fair treatment and worker rights demand and with this awareness has come an opportunity for companies to become an agent for change. “Sustainability is something that is demanded from both customers, employees, and the surrounding society,” explains Hebeltoft. “What makes the change is that the connection between business and sustainability is getting stronger. It's becoming increasingly obvious to people that sustainability and the environment is also a business opportunity but our current task is to identify these opportunities.”

The challenges with working in a relatively fresh sector are primarily centered around the prospective cultural differences. What could potentially be considered a social responsibility by one area of the business may not be a priority for its partners overseas. “Diversity in Copenhagen, or in the UK can be very different from diversity in Turkey,” explains Hebeltoft. “We don't believe that setting the same targets for all locations will be relevant because it would be impossible to achieve identical results, whereas in other countries it might be unambitious.” 

This challenge means that each aspect of a CSR strategy needs to take geographical and cultural considerations into account. The IMPA ACT outlines a set of governances for community, best practice and partnership goals regarding CSR within the supply chain sector. DFDS has made this a crucial part of its CSR strategy. “We have included the IMPA ACT in our supplier code of conduct. It's a really good tool for dialogue,” says Hebeltoft. “If there are development areas, it's easier to identify and to see what is the right way to go. From there, you can make a plan to ensure that everyone is working accordingly.”


As part of its CSR goals, DFDS has risen to the challenge of increasing gender equality throughout its business. Gender pay gaps within the logistics industry currently sit at an average of 5.7%, according to a 2018 study by Logistics Manager, with women seeing less pay and fewer opportunities in executive positions. “We need to make the industry more attractive to females and other minorities,” she says. “I think that's one of the main challenges and one of the things we should address. We aim to have a diversity ratio of at least 30/70 as this is where you'll start to have the best discussions.”

Other factors have been considered by DFDS when tackling its CSR strategy. The balance between work and family life has also seen a shift in attitudes recently, where daycare and paternity leave can create obstacles that can force families to commit to unfavorable choices. “If you need to have your child in daycare for five days a week it can cost a lot of money, it's almost impossible for a family to have two full time employees,” explains Hebeltoft. “Often, it will be women who goes part-time, which is reducing the possibility of having an equal career to men. That's very important to DFDS as we really want to have our male leaders and managers take their fair share of the paternity leave.”

Hebeltoft has been at the heart of the progression within DFDS since joining the company, by encouraging the difficult discussions that the industry needs to have. She has been able to see first-hand the transformation of DFDS into becoming a global thought leader on equality in the logistics sector. “A few years back, CSR was something that you did only to promote yourself, to show how good you are,” she explains. “However, now the debate and the discussions are around how we need to take this seriously. We must be open and honest about what we're doing, where we think it's difficult, where we have failed and where we could improve.”

On tackling the subject of sustainability across the infrastructure and logistics industry, Hebeltoft adds, “It’s vital to be ready to cooperate with others within your own industry or with customers and suppliers. In terms of some of the challenges we're facing, we need to collaborate to ensure we can create solutions that make it possible to be both innovative and competitive while still generating a sustainable business and profitability as well.”


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