Corporate Social Responsibility: Beyond Business

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) calls for companies to embrace responsibility for the impact of their activities on customers, suppliers, employees, shareholders and the community as a whole. These initiatives involve the contribution of the company in the various fronts where their actions might have an effect on the society. It basically revolves around the fundamentals of social accounting, where the company accounts for its actions and inactions and thus ensures its adherence to law, ethical standards and international norms. Through the set of guidelines that constitute the basics of CSR, pressure is applied on industry to improve business ethics through new public initiatives and laws. This could include providing health care services to the employees, constricting energy consumption through energy saving techniques, taking steps to eradicate the evil practices of child labor from the society, etc. It is a voluntary initiative that is now being taken up by most of the leading companies at home and around the globe.

Though the concept of CSR is not of Indian origin, the idea stands vastly explored in the country. Business giants like the TATA and BIRLA have always had their ventures imbued with a sense of social responsibility, much before the concept of CSR was in picture. India has a lot of companies that incorporate the theme of CSR as a part of their operation’s agenda. The Bajaj Auto Ltd. is the first and the only company to launch ecologically friendly CNG engines for three-wheelers in Delhi, the Aditya Birla Group established the Aditya Birla centre for Community Initiatives and Rural Development. The Hero Honda Motors, the IBM group are a few others that donate lakhs of amount to various non-governmental organizations through their corporate philanthropy programs. Despite the above life-size examples, CSR in India remains to be at a burgeoning stage. It is followed only by a meager number of public companies and by a few private companies, with international shareholding as this is the practice followed by them in their native foreign country. Thus the scenario is far from being faultless. A shocking revelation of the failure of the proper implementation of the laws of CSR in India has been witnessed in the state of Orissa. The Indian Ministry of Environment and Forests has allowed two major companies of India – Oil and Natural Gas Cooperation of India (ONGC) and Reliance Industries (RIL) to carry out the off shore drilling off the coast of Orissa. This has led to the deaths of tens of thousands of the Olive Ridley turtles that nest on these sandy beaches. With the number of these turtles already plummeting, they are well on their way towards extinction. The Bhopal Gas tragedy cites another and perhaps the most shameful consequence of the failure of CSR in India. The accidental leakage of the fatal methyl isocyanate gas caused immediate death of thousands of people and caused premature deaths of thousands more, the effects of which are being witnessed till date. The company involved paid some billion dollars to the government as a compensation for the massacre the accident had caused. But before the ruthless killings of men and children and the long term health risks the tragedy exposed the people to, the amount accounted for but a meager reimbursement. The catastrophe unveiled the eternally known but unadhered-to principle of the industries’ responsibility towards the society, of the need for measures to avert any such further disasters.

The term “corporate social responsibility” has today probably come to be recognized as something little more than a definition to a company’s brand name. It does not really draw appropriate attention to what the program indulges itself in. It does sound pleasing to the company’s CEO and its shareholders that the company caters to the need of the general public, that there is this section of “social individuals” in the company’s highly competitive ambience who keep the interests of the people as a bearer of the consequences of the company’s actions and inactions. But as other contentious issues like education and politics, CSR also has been bitten by the bug called ‘commercialization’, and the unwary public as always remains well out of whatever goes on behind the scenes. There has been a massive increase in the number of restaurants that provide junk and unhealthy food, infamous for causing obesity, but each one of them merrily advertises the fact that they sustain a CSR cell in their office. A soap making company might fail in its primary duty in providing sanitary soap, but goes out of its way to engage itself in public welfare activities to compensate for the greater immorality that they exercise through their work. Probably it is the legalization of the CSR for every company that can make them realize their share of duty towards the society. Otherwise the day probably does not stand far when the companies would offer 25% of more social responsibility with every product they sell!!

Dipti Jain

[Image courtesy:]