Shafiq R Khan


Social responsibility and Corporate sustainability in context of social crime

Why India Inc. should evaluate their CSR priorities

Corporate sustainability is derived from the concept of ‘sustainable development’ as defined by the Brundtland Commission--. ‘development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’. It has been around as a term since the 1960s but it actually came into prominence only in the last decade, when great multinationals began to adopt the phrase, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) to demonstrate their seriousness for delivering a positive social impact on the communities in which they are operating.
Internationally, it has been observed that most of the companies tempers with the data to show their fake success in social responsibility efforts. In 2011, more than 4,000 corporate social responsibility (CSR) reports and company surveys were examined by a team at Leeds University. They found that the companies’ reports related to the CSR contain "irrelevant data, unsubstantiated claims, gaps in data and inaccurate figures", the finding certainly cast serious doubts over the burgeoning sector.
The irony is that the companies are using CSR for beautifying or humanizing their business without making a sensible change. In most of the cases companies, who directly exploit the environment and natural resources offer direct services like schools or health facilities or different sorts of training for working class.
They are exploiting their workers and offering trainings for unskilled laborers to make them possible slave-workers.
It is a well known fact that companies often offer training for unskilled laborers to bypass labor laws and deny rights of their own workers making them vulnerable to slavery. It can be understood with an example:  A company has opened a factory inside Delhi’s Tihar Jail, and it will provide inmates employable skills at the time of their release. The project is part of their corporate social responsibility (CSR) programme on-job training and it was started just after a series of protest and strikes in their factories in Manesar area of NCT. This project is going to ensure no unions, no factory inspectors, no strikes, electricity at no cost and commercial space at Rs 10 per sq ft. no cost for security and other systems because Prison authorities are responsible for the discipline, meals and accommodation of its worker inmates. The companies get a captive, uninterrupted labour supply. Prison wages are much lower than the wages paid outside, and once trained, a worker can't leave and join a competitor.
It is almost obvious that the that the companies cannot be expected to be responsible for improving anyone’s life without a fee, their  primary goal is to make profits. Although, the companies may get immediate benefit by misusing their CSR for promoting their business, but in a larger perspective, it will, not only hurt corporate sustainability but also have a negative impact on their business.
In my decade long experience of working on social crimes, I have found that poverty and social crimes, separately as well as combined have negative impact on business.
In region of (Haryana-Uttar Pradesh-Rajasthan) I observed, that adolescent girls are not allowed to use lipstick or some other cosmetics. Only because the communities believe that ‘those cosmetic products have capacity to get erotic response from men’ and use of these products leads them towards attraction which culminates into physical relation, so it should be used only by a married woman. I do not want to be judgmental about the use of cosmetics by women, and rather prefer to keep myself aloof of the debate of its merits or demerits. But a large section of adolescent girls are forced not to use the cosmetic products, which is not only a form of honour-based social crimes but a big deficit for the cosmetic industry!
Photo courtesy :- wnsf 
During the March Against Bride Trafficking 2012, I met some waitresses working in road side dhabas in a district of Assam (on the borders of Bangladesh) where one plate rice was for Rs.35 and for machh (fish) you need to pay Rs.20 extra. So your food costs a minimum of Rs.55 for one time, and these women were working in a slave like condition for Rs.150/month and one time food with a shelter (a typical Assamies hut), I was curious about their life-style and asked them how they were living in that condition and how they spent their salaries. Most of them were abandoned from some brothel and migrated (might have been trafficked) from Bangladesh, and after the age of 40 they came to roadside dhaba for a livelihood and shelter. They were spending almost 50% of their salary in buying soap, detergent powder or other cosmetics which were not only duplicate but also costlier than the original products. I found that one of the ladies had bought a toilet soap named LIFEDOY with MRP Rs.7, a duplicate of LIFEBOUY which has an MRP Rs.5. It is painful that how a person with such a low income is paying higher price for low quality toilet soap, which perhaps did not go under a normal quality check.
In the same region a man beheaded his daughter for chatting with a boy on mobile phone she had befriended with. The man killed his daughter since he thought that chatting with an unknown man is a crime for which the girl deserved death! A mobile phone was responsible for their friendship and became a reason for her death. This mindset has dominance in the area to the extent that some caste panchayats and ethnic groups imposes ban on the use of mobile phone.
In the first case, a number of girls are being forced away from cosmetics product because of cultural issues and traditional ethos. In the second, a woman who is free to buy a cosmetic product has a limited income and no access to original products. In third one, technology is being held responsible for causing ‘moral damage’ in youths and thus, could be blamed for a murder.
These incidents clearly indicates that how social crimes directly effect the business sector however, it may not be visible at present since the big Indian bazaar is still expanding, yet it should be kept in mind that it is not only the purchase power which defines a ‘consumer’ but the ‘willingness’ to buy a product is equally important. Since social crime and cultural dilemma which is interdependent and becoming more rigid with the growing middle class—thanks to the growing cities into its nearby villages, who has started imitating perceived notions of honour; it can easily be understood that bans on different technologies, cosmetics and accessories would be more rigid if left untouched.
Social crimes and cultural rigidity are regularly in news and worst than ever, is neither on priority of India inc. nor of the civil society, because civil society or NGOs are completely donor driven. The feminist movement and other women rights movement is hanging around middle and upper class of urban areas.  Neo technical solutions are being suggested to prevent the crimes which are directly related to urban and middle class women, but this cannot provide any solution to the plights of a number of vulnerable rural people who have no access to these technologies. Neither it is going on out of ignorance or spontaneous profit making enthusiasm nor has it a lean impact on society. A million of people are directly affected by the development and are left alone. Some organized social crimes like trafficking or forced migration do help development sector by providing slave like laborors directly or indirectly as domestic laborors, sex slaves and even now as bridal slaves. On the other hand, it further helps the so called development by removing ‘human-hurdles’ from the areas of natural resources making exploitation of the resources easy.
And I dare to say that the corporate sector, actually, silently supports the menace of trafficking since most of source area of trafficking are known for its natural resources.
According to UN (WGHR) 2012, 60 to 65 million people are estimated to have been displaced in India since Independence, the highest number of people uprooted for development projects. "Of these displaced, over 40% are tribals and another 40% consist of dalits and other rural poor,"
That means every year around one million people are forced displaced by the development project and only around 20-25% of those internally displaced are ever resettled in India, as the vast majority of those forcibly evicted from their habitat are not recognized as internally displaced people which falls in to trafficking.
Corporatist and governments are doing this for short term benefits which are not only against the concept/ethic of corporate sustainability but a threat to overall system.
Exploitation of resources at top speed is not only effecting people and its health but also a threat to overall ecology which is truly against the concept of business sustainability.
However, development is necessary and migration is a part of any development. Several studies indicate that migration later resulted in good life of the migrant  but it affects emotional and psychological health and this leads towards frustration and rigidity.
The rising extremism, cruelty, preference of male child, violence against women/children and intolerance on the basis of caste, creed and religion are actually result of ignoring the social development. Escalating economic gulf and naked social security are pushing one to earn more and more at any cost, and the high pressure to prove oneself tends him to commit crime against comparatively weak (powerless) in the society, these can be women, children, a particular community or group blaming them for reasons of his failure.
India never witnessed any inclusive civic movement which could prepare a ground for a smooth socio-economic change. The India Inc. should be serious about immediate relief for the ‘victims’ of ‘development’ and sustainability of ecology as well as corporate sector. India inc. also needs to pave the way for a social movements to prevent ‘heinous’ social crimes which are byproduct of development and becoming threat for the overall sector. Perhaps, instead of calling it “social responsibility”, we ought to name it, “corporate sustainability”.
Next PostNewer Post Previous PostOlder Post Home