A Little Corporate Social Work?

The growth and ascendancy of multinational corporations, especially in developing countries, raises profound political and normative challenges and implications addressing the activities and responsibilities of the corporate sector. Violation of human rights stemming from corporate social irresponsibility has compelled a growing international consensus towards the need for making MNCs socially responsible & accountable to international human rights standards.

Corporate Social Responsibility is a very wide concept. CSR is an international human rights issue including human rights groups like Human Rights Watch coming forward and asking MNCs to contribute to the development of the marginalized. It is neither restricted to India nor to social service. CSR sees organizations voluntarily taking steps to improve the quality of life of the community at large.

In many developing countries, governments are looking towards corporates to aid them in poverty alleviation. CSR also includes innovative collaboration between non-profit organizations and their corporate partners in order to achieve the goal of a better society.

CSR has been widely recognised a very powerful tool to in the global fight against corruption. If there is a collective move towards enforcing business ethics, corruption in the private sector can be brought down significantly.

CSR is a concept whereby corporates take responsibility for the impact they have on the lives of their employees and their families as well. Also, CSR can be regarded as an approach in which corporates adopt environment friendly production techniques, engage in tree plantation and come forward to do their bit for the protection of the planet.

Some critics argue that corporations are fundamentally entities responsible for generating a product or service to gain profits and there is no place social responsibility as a business function. However, I believe that CSR is not a business function by concept, rather it is voluntary practice. Corporations are not being asked to divert from their primary aim of gaining profits but merely to their bit for the society.

I feel that one of the major flaws of the concept is that it can be manipulated to suit the ulterior motives of the corporation. I feel, ITC can go ahead and sell tobacco products and yet sponsor a social service project to clean up their image. TATA can make their laborers work 14 hours a day yet get away with it by saying that they are reviving the Benarasi sari industry. One does not deny that the CSR projects taken up by these companies are noble but one has to recognize the flaw in the policy as well.

I believe that the most healthy and prosperous nations are built by citizens who take “responsibility” of their communities. Corporates are citizens who are in a better position to take socially responsive action thus their role gets enhanced in this regard. In a country like India, corporates are given large tax breaks to encourage them to play their part in social service. However, there are examples of numerous countries like Guyana, Mexico and Bolivia where CSR is a very highly developed concept. I feel it is high time Indian corporates came forward to take more responsibility to further an inclusive plan for development.

Corporates have the funds that need to be channelised into socially meaningful projects. Corporations also attract a bigger following, thanks to their brand name and can actually use their influence over the media to attract attention to a social cause. In short, they are in a favorable position to effect social change.

Lastly, I also believe that it should remain a voluntary practice as making it a norm or a law could cause a moral hazard.
Mitali Nikore

[Image Source: http://www.sweden.se/upload/Sweden_se/english/articles/SI/2007/csr/csr_sweden.jpg]