COMPANIES here have opened their hearts - and their wallets - in the wake of Japan's devastating earthquake-tsunami tragedy.

In many cases, donations from corporations have been initiated by staff, many of whom feel a strong connection with Japan through work, travel or other ties.

Leading the way on the corporate side are listed firms such as engineering outfit Hiap Seng, media company Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) and water services firm Hyflux.

 They have donated cash sums ranging from $50,000 to $100,000 to the Red Cross Society.

SPH staff raised about $50,000 over two days following the disaster while Hyflux made a donation of $50,000 to relief efforts.

Bourse operator the Singapore Exchange has donated $100,000 and all clearing fees received from trading of all Nikkei products on March 25.

Telecoms firms StarHub, SingTel and M1 have also banded together to waive administration fees for customers who wish to pledge donations via SMS.

An expert on the growing field of corporate social responsibility (CSR) says there are positive spin-offs for companies which do the right thing.

National University of Singapore (NUS) adjunct professor Robert Flemming said there is no question that companies donate out of generosity and good intentions. However, he added that there are also potential benefits.

'They do get some recognition of some kind, from coverage in the press,' he said. 'More importantly, it boosts staff morale as people want to be associated with a company that carries out its activities responsibly.'

But he did not think firms donate simply to get better business deals or for any other side benefit, arguing that most of the time, donations to relief efforts are initiated by employees rather than the firm.

The Singapore Red Cross Society said last week the current donations to the Japan relief fund total about $11 million.

But while the crisis in Japan has raised huge sums in a short time, other earlier disasters such as earthquakes in Haiti and Christchurch, New Zealand did not draw as much attention.

Dr Flemming said this can be explained by several factors.

Japan is much nearer to Singapore and many local firms have close working ties with Japanese firms, said Dr Flemming, who teaches ethics and corporate social responsibility at NUS Business School. 'When the Haiti earthquake struck, there were people who asked: 'Where is Haiti?'' he recalled. 'But in the case of Japan, there are many personal links at the working level.'

Another reason is that the media has played a powerful role in raising awareness of the Japan tragedy, he said.

'When the tsunami struck, there were all these images showing the waves clearing the cities in real time, which generated a real impact,' he said.

Mr Laurence Lien, chief executive of the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre (NVPC), highlighted the triple whammy of the quake, the tsunami and then the protracted nuclear crisis.

'The crisis in Japan is unprecedented. Not only do the Japanese have to contend with grief, but they are faced with a nuclear crisis and the need to quickly pull together relief and massive reconstruction efforts,' he said.

'In Japan's case, the magnitude of the devastation has been extensively communicated through multiple media and social platforms, and it's common for corporates and individuals alike to feel compelled to support relief efforts through donations of cash or kind.'

Hiap Seng chairman and chief executive Frankie Tan said his company's donation to the relief efforts in Japan was not simply motivated by the fact that his firm has strong links to Japanese firms.

In fact, Mr Tan donates regularly in the event of tragedies suffered by other countries.

'We donated to Haiti and Suzhou (which suffered a major earthquake) in China as well. As a firm, we want to give something back,' he said.

Said Mr Lien: 'We are optimistic that many companies are beginning to be more engaged and strategic in their corporate social responsibility efforts.'