Is your social strategy in place?

Despite all the euphoria about economic growth, the obstacles in India’s path remain formidable. One of the most difficult issues to tackle would be the increasing level of economic disparities. So while there are 53000 households with annual incomes of more than 1 crore, 400 million go to bed hungry. These 400 million are below the poverty line which by definition means that they do not get enough to eat everyday. The simmering violence of a hungry stomach can be explosive. And a large alienated mass of people is a potential tinder box if they are mobilised. History has shown that such disparities are socially unsustainable.

When a large section of the society is disaffected then it tends to retaliate against people who it thinks are exploiting them or the society. The consequences of such conflicts are enormous and problems become intractable. We have seen that the population of NE and Kashmir have felt alienated(though for both economic and political reasons) and it has led to a spiralling circle of violence and resentment. This has had catastrophic impact on the economic activities. Despite the best efforts of the government and parts of civil society business has not recovered in NE. We are seeing the increasing influence of the naxalites in a broad swathe of Eastern and central part of the country. The dangers of such inequality are multiplied in India because of lack of a proper justice system and endemic corruption in the law enforcement circles. The lack of justice and the unfairness around make the deprived sections more volatile and violent.

In these circumstances, it is even more threatening for the key organs of the society which are seen to be exploiting the society. So the rich landlords were the targets in the naxalite movement and the government or security forces in Kashmir or the tea gardens in Assam. In these times of increasing disparity, many people have started seeing the corporate sector as flourishing at the cost of poor people by charging high prices or making money unethically. This is reinforced by the visible lifestyles of executives and owners.

The typical response of businessmen to this would be that they need to reap the rewards of their talent and hard work. The executives also need to be paid international salaries as the country becomes more competitive and the companies need to retain talent. While these are valid reasons, the corporate sector needs to also take steps to assuage the concerns of large sections of society. This can be best achieved by being a good corporate citizen . Good corporate social responsibility can act a protection against the vicissitudes of the social dynamics and make the companies less immune to violence and subsequent losses. The steps taken today can prevent bigger disasters tomorrow. One shudders to imagine what would happen to FDI or venture capitalists if the CEO of a multinational is kidnapped and beheaded for a ransom.

Corporate social responsibility implies a) Being honest, doing everything legally
b) Fulfilling all obligations and commitments towards all stake holders(including society at large)

Sadly, many corporates in India fall short of expectations even on being ethically proper. In the past, we had examples of companies not paying the employees their providend fund dues which has fortunately got corrected. Many corporates go to great lengths to avoid taxes, duties in collusion with government officials. They shamelessly degrade the environment knowing fully well that it is a treasure to be fully protected. There are several instances of crooked businessmen not clearing the genuine dues of their business partners and associates. The consumers getting cheated by cynical manipulation of licenses with the help of politicians is an accepted practice in this country. No wonder in surveys of respectable professions ,managers and entrepreneurs still figure very low.

This aspect of corporate social responsibility should be a given. In fact, the corporate associations like FICCI and ASSOCHAM or CII should be pro-active in ensuring minimum level of ethics like watchdogs. Any member flouting or sidestepping the law should be censured by its peers. Necessary inputs and systems for getting information and acting on them should be put in place. The government has to be more concerned about this and should tighten laws for evaders.

It is also important in the era of globalisation to be ethically above reproach especially for companies which have global aspirations. The consumers worldwide expect ethical behaviour and can with the power of internet or alert citizen groups or individuals can destroy companies. . It cannot be just an offshoot of the benevolent intentions of the CEO. This also has to be in the DNA of every employee or dubious acts by sections of the company like in Arthur Andersen can lead to collapse

The second aspect of corporate social responsibility then assumes importance. It is about giving back to the society from where one draws sustenance. The Tatas have done it widely in different fields and the goodwill they enjoy today is partly an outcome of this. The benefits for business from this dimension of CSR are enormous. No government or political party in Jharkhand today can think of unduly harassing TISCO. Similarly, Infosys by the simple act of funding the expansion of the premier pediatric hospital in Bhubaneshwar today commands huge goodwill in Orissa. Fortunately, many corporates today have embarked on programmes to give back to the society.

But in India the corporates need to also go beyond the above traditional understanding of the corporate social responsibility to ensure that they actually work as a powerful force for the good of the society. Today the best and brightest join the corporate sector with idealism in their hearts. They look upto their leaders .At the top there are crooks but there are also men of iconic stature and unimpeachable integrity like Premji and Murthy. There are some top level professionals chief executives who command a great deal of respect in the society. They need to dynamically influence policy and be more engaged with society. It is in the interest of the business that they speak up on behalf of the silent masses of society. The civil society needs people who have the courage to stand up. Many arms of the society (academia or media)in the face of consumerism can wilt because many times they are not financially independent or there is a quid pro quo with the powers that be. It is on such issues that the corporate leaders of the society should stand up. Today, they have the strength to not to succumb to pressure. But they do not stand up and only seethe silently. So it is sad to see that the Gujarat riots are not censured by the corporate community in general or Gowda’s antics are being handled with kid gloves.


So corporate social responsibility which is ethical behaviour and fulfilling obligations towards all stakeholders is not just a feel-good activity to draw talent or build up reputation .For the Indian industry the significance of corporate social responsibility goes beyond the traditional underpinnings. It is a strategic necessity from several angles. The corporates need to have a sound social strategy as part of their business strategy.


Popular posts from this blog

Timbuktu and Mali

Seize the online Home Decor Market

Dubai and Lagos-A Story of Contrasts