CORPORATE SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY - OR IS IT?
by Haresh Singh, BVCOE
“For every XYZ product you buy, our company donates Re.1 to its rural development initiative. You can be truly proud that your contribution is a part of it.”
Advertisements like this have become the strategy of every other firm to flaunt their efforts towards “corporate social responsibility”, with a motive to gain popularity amongst the masses and build up a good image to rake in more moolah. The consumers on their part feel proud of themselves for doing their bit for the society even if it means shelling out a little more.
Job well done. Full marks to the marketing department.
Corporation - 1:0 - Society
The first and foremost thing to be understood by the consumer should be whether the company is actually doing what it claims. What this basically implies is that while the company might be spending a negligible portion of its profits on some, it might in turn be harming a larger number of people, which is sadly the case with most of the firms. A firm selling clothing line, for instance, can claim to be really generous when it comes to shelling out for the society, but it’s a lesser known fact that majority of these big brands employ underpaid child labour in third world countries so as to minimise their production expenditure and this exploitation is the same in a variety of other sectors like cosmetics, automobile, handicrafts, food processing and through recently discovered facts, in the major production units all across our country.
These concepts might seem obsolete to some but recent instances, such as the strikes in an automobile plant of a well known and trusted automobile firm, where the workers were allegedly being underpaid and exploited in direct violation of labour laws, prove that such elements exist on a large scale, even though under a veil of their “efforts towards CSR”. The recent stir against some designer firms against the use of sand blasting in jeans manufacturing, for: (1) employing child labour and (2) exposing them to hazardous environment resulting in loss of their eyesight, is another example.
Another point that needs to be noted on the part of consumer is that whether the product itself is of harmful nature. A cigarette company would be shameful to showcase their work on social causes. However, it would be incorrect to blame the firms totally since their success is driven by the demand amongst the masses and therefore, it’s necessary for the people to realise the not so known aspects of the so claimed corporate social responsibility drive which has become a trend rather than a cause amongst the firms. A firm should have no right flaunt its fake efforts and misguide people if it is indulging in any kind of activity which, directly or indirectly, cause more harm than good and this responsibility needs to be undertaken by the corporate laws as well as people, since ultimately, the firms are dependent on the consumers for their revenue.
While one perspective would be that this “trend” is beneficial since it would promote social welfare, no matter what the actual reason behind it, another perspective would be to judge it on a broader scale and then concluding whether any good is being done. Educating 10 children by making 1000 of them work in miserable, underpaid and at times, hazardous conditions, is not a gain for society in any manner and it’s our responsibility to act against it. The dirty truth behind many industries is not hidden from us. Time and again, it has been brought up by media and NGOs. Being negligent towards this issue would act against us in the long run, and who knows if we might end up becoming the next victim of their malpractices. Therefore, while we still have the time and opportunity, it’s the responsibility of the people to cooperate and act against such evils.
What the society needs to realize is that they are the ultimate beneficiaries/victims of the choices they make and should hence, give their decisions a more just thinking. Corporate laws need to be amended to ensure that the claims by the companies are not equivocal. These changes when juxtaposed with the correct decisions on the consumers’ part would actually result in the meaningful welfare of the society as a whole.