Considering a trip to Armenia as a tourist, future investor, repatriate, or for a short conference/training trip? Make sure to become part of a global movement on a local basis by supporting responsible businesses in Armenia. The aim of this review is to guide anyone living in or travelling to Armenia who would like to use services or buy products of those businesses there, which operate not only for their own profits, but also for the benefit of local communities, rural and urban development throughout Armenia, its environment, etc.
In no way is this guide an attempt to advertise businesses of some and diminish the businesses of others. So in case your business too benefits the society and environment at large, but is not included here, you can contact us for updating our guide (contacts below). You can also contact us in case you consider a business mentioned below as irresponsible, despite its claims to act responsibly. We would then research each case and upgrade the guide if necessary.
A few words about responsible business
Today there is a global movement for making businesses more responsible and sustainable; sustainable not only for the businesses themselves, but also for the communities where they operate. More businesses start implementing policies such as Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), or principles such as the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. However, this has been greatly driven by consumers themselves, the ones, who realize the power their choices make locally and globally. Based on the demands of local and international groups more businesses today are shifting towards doing responsible businesses. Slowly, but this movement is coming to Armenia too. Here as well local and international consumers have an important role.
Tips for accommodation
There are hotels, hostels, B&Bs, private rentals, as well as AirB&B available in Armenia. But if you would like to spend your money in a way benefitting not only the owners, but also the work they do for communities, here are a few nice options.
Villa Delenda and Villa Aygedzor in Yerevan, as well as Villa Kars in Gyumri are a chain of guest houses which aside from economic development, also contribute to cultural-architectural preservation, as well as to the development of arts in Armenia. Particularly Villa Delenda in Yerevan and Villa Kars in Gyumri are located in old central neighborhoods of the cities in this way preventing the complete gentrification of the cities. In addition, these hotels are supporting the Family Care Foundation which in its turn, among other things, supports development of pottery center in Gyumri.
Silk road hotel in Yerevan also serves to cultural purposes, aside from its economic goals. It is a subsidiary of Folk Arts Hub Foundation the purpose of which is to revive traditional folk arts, particularly textiles. It advocates for handmade environmentally friendly products. The foundation spreads the carpet weaving traditions; it teaches children the art of carpet and rug weaving and introduces the carpet culture. The foundation also pays special attention to the visual arts, particularly short documentaries. In order the foundation was self-sufficient, the Silk Road guesthouse was thus created (an interview with the Director of the Foundation).
Tufenkian Heritage Hotels can be found in four locations – Historic Yerevan hotel, which has prevented yet another historical building in Yerevan from being demolished. Old Dilijan Complex is another success story of restoration and preservation of 19th century architecture and a historical district, where craftsmen workshops and studios continue the traditions and offer jewelry, clothing, carpets, ceramics, woodcarvings, arts and crafts all revived with Tufenkian’s renovation of the historical district. Two other locations are Avan Dzoraget Hotel near the river Debed and Avan Marak Tsapatagh Hotel near the lake Sevan. In addition to these efforts, Tufenkian foundation is set up supporting centers advocating for women’s rights, environmental protection and other socio-economic rights.
Envoy hostel has been operating in Yerevan for about 11 years now. It has too embarked on a mission to give back to community, as it states on its website. It states there about its tradition of practicing Corporate Social Responsibility demonstrated by their actions, such as being environmentally conscience, employing and training locals, creating employment through their tours in remote locations of Armenia, as well as supporting a range of charities, including Mission Armenia, Armenian Christian Mission, FIO Orphanage, CMIAID.
Berlin Art hotel in Gyumri is a social pilot enterprise of the German Red Cross in Berlin. It was established in 1996 as a non-profit organization with a purpose to contribute to the support and development of medical care in the outpatient clinic “Berlin Centre for Mother and Child”. The latter was established after the disastrous earthquake in 1988 by the association “Berlin Aid for Armenia” under the direction of the German Red Cross, Berlin Branch.
The hotel has an art Gallery25. All 15 rooms feature the art works of local and international artists.
Urtsadzor eco-center and guest house apart from offering accommodation for tourists is a facility for biodiversity trainings and scientific exploration. It is located not far from Urtsadzor village, Ararat region. It is a social enterprise supporting various environmental projects in the area by bringing financial resources in via eco-tourism. Additionally, the team of rangers and environmental cultural activists of this center work closely with the rural communities for developing tourism together, as well as for empowering the rural communities and educating the new generation. The center buys its food products from the villagers, thus this too is a way for community development. Another collaboration is between this center and Ar Or cultural center, where stone carving (mainly cross-stones) is taught free of charge. For the past year this center has turned into a lively cultural hub not only for the locals, but also for the tourists.
The Nature Visitor Center is another example of eco-tourism, located in Dsegh Community of Lori Marz – one of Armenia’s biologically rich sites and Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBA) with over 150 species of birds. This Center is established and operated by the Armenian Society for the Protection of Birds, a not-for-profit organization that aims to link Dsegh’s wildlife treasures with nature lovers and of course the local rural community, in this way also supporting the development of the latter. The purpose of the centre is to have local communities involved in providing services and activities to the visitors, this way improving their socio-economic status. This initiative in its turn motivates the rural communities to play an active role in conserving natural resources. There are accommodations offered near the site, as well as guided tours, such as bird watching, hiking, climbing, paragliding, fishing, horse riding.
Machanents tourism and art center located in Ejmiatsin (officially-Vagharshapat) offers accommodation as well as the opportunity to contribute to the Cross of Armenian Unity charitable cultural organization. The latter runs a theater as well as art courses for local children, such as painting, pottery, national cuisine, carpet and rug making, choir and vocal classes, etc.
Obviously, one of the ways to support local economies is to use services of local brands. However, those who would like to use foreign brands operating in Armenia – particularly brands that are committed to doing a responsible business – they also can find options. One such brand is Hyatt Place found in two locations in Armenia – Yerevan and Jermuk. This is a chain of global Hyatt Hotels Corporation therefore it has one general policy of doing a responsible business applied to all its chains. These policies are highlighted on its website and include zero tolerance to human trafficking within their sphere of influence, zero tolerance to child labor both in the operation of its hotels, as well as in its suppliers’. It stands for wages for the workers as well as work hours that comply with the local laws. It also has policies for environmental governance, transparent work etc.
Tips for mobile phone card operators and internet providers
VivaCell-MTS (80 percent belongs to Russian MTS company, 20 percent to Lebanese Fattouche Group) is one of the well known operators in Armenia with a history of doing a responsible business. Not only does it promote ethical business within the company based on trust, equality, responsibility towards company’s workers, customers as well as wider community, but it also educates the society through its public service announcements, as well as directly giving lectures on benefits of doing responsible business. VivaCell-MTS also co-sponsors a lot of cultural events organized throughout Armenia, including cinema, music, theater festivals, art events, technology exhibitions, etc. It also supports programs that aim to improve living conditions of rural population, such as reconstruction of their houses, operation of energy saving street lighting, etc.
Another company in this sphere is ArmenTel-Beeline (100 percent of this company belongs to Russian “Beeline” brand of VimpelCom Ltd). This company has as well invested in education by providing scholarships to students, promoting art education, supporting projects aimed at full integration of children with special needs into society. It also invested in the renovation and equipment of library and a computer classroom of one of the universities. The company supports the development of technological entrepreneurship. It also supports development programs in border villages, such as construction of playgrounds, outdoor gyms, etc.
Orange Armenia (French corporation) has been yet another company with distinct CSR policies in place. However, since the Armenian branch is now in the process of merging with another company, the latter having no mention about CSR or corporate charity whatsoever, we will not include the new product into this guideline (until the latter company inherits the CSR traditions of Orange Armenia).
Tips for banks
Banking sector in Armenia seems to be less acquainted or less ambitious in implementing corporate social responsibility policies. A few banks have any mention of their socially responsible attitude on their websites and there is even less appearance/promotion of these activities publicly.
ACBA-Credit Agricole Bank for example has a short notice on its social and environmental responsibility policy, where it states about introducing social and environmental risk management system. Its aim is to control possible risks of adverse effect on the nature and people that may exist in transactions financed by the bank. It states that any activity of the bank undergoes a risk assessment procedure prior to extending financing, which includes the assessment of possible damage to the health, security and well-being of the population. It also states that any activity that has strong adverse effect risks is not financed by the bank. The bank also mentions on its website about its support of projects aimed at energy saving and the use of alternative energy sources among its consumers.
Areximbank-Gazprombank has placed reports of its activities on its website in form of news, rather than a separate corporate social responsibility policy. It too has invested in education, by providing scholarships to students, supported refurbishment of kindergartens. It has covered travel expenses of children from Armenian communities in Syria travelling to Armenia for summer holidays, as well as financially assisted several Syrian-Armenian families. The bank also sponsored publication of an Armenian language course-book for Armenian Sunday schools in Russia and Ukraine.
Armeconombank has an extensive policy in the social and environmental sector placed on their website, promising to invest in those projects that are socially and environmentally sustainable. The bank expresses its commitment to work in compliance with the social, environmental and other respective legislation of Armenia. It also states about its goal to raise awareness of environmental requirements among its employees and clients. It also acknowledges its responsibility to review and supervise the social and environmental performance throughout the project life cycle. More on this policy adopted in 2011 can be found in the pdf.
Artsakhbank has a short summary on its CSR policy, stating that it sponsors numerous programs in the field of education, culture, sport and healthcare in Armenia, as well as Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (a territory officially unrecognized by the world as a republic).
Prometey Bank has as well kept it rather short regarding its CSR policy. It highlights its transparent way of operating, as well as several key areas to invest, among these – children in need of special care, educational, scientific and cultural programs for youth, etc.
HSBC as well mentions sustainability as its strategic priority. It has a general overview of its CSR policy that is applicable to all branches of HSBC globally. There it states that it acknowledges and manages social or environmental risks that may arise through its investments. Moreover, it declares on its website that it aims at supporting businesses that will transit economies to a low-carbon future. The bank itself has committed to cut its annual carbon emission from 3.5 tonnes per employee in 2011 to 2.5 tonnes by 2020. The bank also works with charities for supporting communities, particularly education and environment. Despite its one policy for all its branches, HSBC’s Swiss Private Bank was recently involved in a scandal of having customers, among these Armenians from Armenia, with secret accounts set up in the bank for tax evasions and other suchlike purposes. In 2012 HSBC was again involved in a global scandal for being exposed to money laundering, drug trafficking and terrorist financing risks due to its poor anti-money laundering controls. More can be found here.
Tips for insurance companies
Mostly insurance companies in Armenia have no CSR policies. Their activities mainly have charity character. As such most of the companies have some charitable activity mentioned in their news sections. For example, Rosgosstrakh insurance company has news about its involvement in the support of Syrian-Armenian families living in Armenia; participation in an event and giving presents to children from a special school in Gyumri; it also supports students in developing their career skills in the world of insurance. Reso insurance company as well has news section where it narrates its activities, such as sponsoring the insurance of the participants of a bike marathon in 2014, awarding the winners of a literature event with insurance packages in 2014, sponsoring a runner’s marathon the purpose of which was to collect money for covering the care and rehabilitation of children with cerebral palsy. Ingo Armenia is one of the few, if not the only company which has a mention on its website about its acknowledgement of responsibility towards the society. It thus states about its active participation in different social, cultural and educational programs. Among other activities, the company participated in a job fair organized for people with disabilities, where it offered its vacancies. The company also awarded a number of doctors in Armenia with insurance policies in the area of professional liability of health workers.
Tips for products
One of the ways to contribute to the local economy is buying local products, whether food products, clothing, or else. For example, one can already find shoes, underwear, hygiene products made in Armenia. Moreover, during warm months there are two markets operating in Yerevan (on Kasyan str. and near Mashtots park) where over the weekends the villagers bring their own food-products to sell. But even among local producers one can already find businesses which are making efforts to act socially and environmentally responsible. A few suchlike local companies having CSR policies mentioned on their websites or at least involved in corporate charity are Ashtarak Kat (dairy products), Grand Tabak (tobacco, although one may think tobacco is already a major social problem), Lentex (local brand), Ani Product (dairy). This is not the full list of course. But planning and realizing CSR policies or reporting these activities is yet to come to Armenia. For example, one can watch media coverage on this or that local brand investing in improving its labor conditions or investing in the community (like Grand Holding), but you can find little or no information on its responsibility policies on its website. So there is a lot of work for us – promoters of responsible business – to do in the field.
Tips for leisure places
Once again it is a good idea to eat in places serving local food, rather than representing global chains. In countries like Armenia it is also a responsible attitude on behalf of the customer to eat in places run by Syrian families. This would particularly contribute to the integration of these families fleeing the war zone into the new society.
This guide has several purposes. First of all it is an attempt to introduce anyone who is new to the Armenian market or to the concept of doing responsible business on the options that exist in Armenia in this respect. This is a guide especially for those who would like to have positive impact resulted by their conscious choices, whether these are tourists, repatriates, professionals travelling to Armenia for conferences/trainings, or for whatever other reasons they visit Armenia.
This review also wants to promote the realization of the visiting and local consumers of the power of their choices when it comes to investing in a more sustainable present and future.
Another purpose of this guide is to introduce the concept of doing responsible business to those businesses that are not yet operating with respective policies, as well as to further improve the corporate social responsibility policies of those businesses which have already made the first steps.
There are some general tips that a consumer may keep in mind for improving his/her footprint wherever s/he goes: consuming less plastic, carrying own non-plastic bag for buying products, eating/shopping in local producers’ stores, if possible, avoid supermarkets/malls/global brands, doing some prior research on which accommodation to stop at or in case one stays in a hotel where for example working conditions are bad, write a review on websites such as Trip Advisor or other booking sites. Being attentive and careful will not spoil your trip, but the guilt of irresponsible attitude may stay after the trip for a long time.
About the author of this guide
Sofia Manukyan specializes in the field of business and human rights, and advocates for responsible business practices by assisting businesses in implementing various policies and guidelines, including more familiar regulations established by the Corporate Social Responsibility model, as well as more advanced guidelines specifically in human rights adopted by the United Nations.
For any inquiry, contact at firstname.lastname@example.org