[AI] Business of charity.....SREELATHA MENON

pradeep banakar pradeepsocialwork at gmail.com
Wed May 7 07:04:06 EDT 2008


Business of charity.....SREELATHA MENON

The business world seems to be suddenly consumed with goodness. Every
company wants to talk about the nice things it is doing for slum
children, village girls, weavers and farmers. Coke, Pepsi, ITC, Tatas,
Reliance, all have a list of goodies for the community. Little drops
of joy as some would call it.
The industry calls it Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), while the
cynical social action groups call it Co-option of Social Resistance.

The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) is having a summit on CSR
this week, while the CSR units of other industry bodies, like Ficci
and Assocham, are suddenly active again and meetings on healthcare,
education and climate change are being planned.

Retail chains, which were at the receiving end of mob fury till the
other day, have found in CSR a tool to woo their enemies. Street
vendors, physically handicapped, senior citizens, dropouts, all are
welcome to work with them.

If you smell trouble, you can also run a health van. The gentle dabs
of a dentist on the gums of angry villagers is a sure way to make them
consider selling a bit of their farmlands to the company.

The beleaguered business community nursing its wounds from Singur,
Orissa and the numerous SEZ and big retail riot spots admits that CSR
is no longer charity. It is a business strategy, as the person heading
the CSR wing of CII, Shefali Chaturvedi, puts it. She is only echoing
ITC Chairman YC Deveshwar who says that it is the way to do business.
ITC for its part has made CSR into a fine art by revolving its
business around it. Echoupals are aimed at empowering farmers as much
as at its business of procuring food grains and potatoes for its
products.

Reliance is following suit through its farmer advisory cells coming up
in villages, assisting its fledgling jathropha plantation and dairy
procurement projects.

According to CII, the urgency of companies to push their CSR
initiatives is driven by the fact that CSR would soon be a non-tariff
barrier and companies would have no option but to do it to get
investors and buyers.

IT companies Intel, Dell and Microsoft have been aggressively
distributing computers and doing everything to bridge the digital
divide, putting to shame even the government's own programmes. "We are
creating future customers while doing our CSR," admits John Davies,
General Manager, Intel World Ahead Program.

Among Indian IT companies, Satyam, Infosys and Wipro are now also
known for the work they do in the community apart from their offices.

Is it the birth of a kinder, gentler industry? Recently, JSW Steel's
Sangeeta Jindal, talking about her foundation's new earth care awards,
admitted ignorance about the havoc that the sponge iron plant of
sister concern Jindal Power and Steel was wreaking on villagers in
Raigadh in Chhattisgarh. Her award jury includes top names like M S
Swaminathan.

Similarly, Coke's foundation is in the hands of people who would
normally be on the other side of the fence. There is a headmistress, a
poet, an actor, a social worker, a retired chief justice and a
cardiologist in the outfit. Now, if 'jholawalas' call it co-option,
that is more employment for them to pierce the corporate veil.

CSR will soon become a non-tariff barrier and companies will have no
option but to do it to get investors and buyers

URL: http://epaper.business-standard.com/bsepaper/svww_showarticle.php?art=20080504a_012101002




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