Responsible Business, Green Economy:

Another Green Pasture?

Focus is on green. Way to a green future is the discussion everywhere. Sustainable Development, Corporate Social Responsibility, Green Technologies etc are the terms used by NGOs, corporates, social workers, management experts to young management graduates these days. For NGOs, CSR provides some money for carrying out community – social – developmental activities.  Probably less paper work, procedures and red-tape involved in CSR projects may be an attraction.

However, there are questions and doubts: Arun Kurkute, a social activist based in Mumbai says, corporate business houses and NGOs as partners for social transformation, is doubtful if they will make any difference and contribute to more social development and social justice. He says, NGOs will lose their identity, vision and goals eventually.

Coming back to green, in every aspect, socio-development sector and corporate sector are full of ideas on a game called green & making businesses socially & environmentally responsible! Green micro finance, green investments are some other terms commonly used. There are educational programs that too are coming up and offering different qualifications for aspiring future green business & developmental professionals! This is not an attempt to question anyone’s integrity. However, questions need to be raised at every point in our societal journey, so that our path to future can be made more related to what we want to attain! Communities have to constantly innovate for finding better avenues for involving all the societal stakeholders in its journey towards justice & equality. 

Recently, ministry of corporate affairs, government of India, brought out national voluntary guidelines on Social, Environmental and Economic Responsibilities of Business, 2011. This is a fifty pages report. A very important document for all businesses as well as other economic stakeholders! The report addresses very important issues concerning our common future and the private sector role in building a society which is more responsible in delivering their socio-economic and environment responsibilities.

Though the guidelines looks interesting, there are a number of issues arise from it. In the voluntary guidelines, the corporate affairs ministry calls upon corporates that, “Businesses should respect the right to freedom of association, participation, collective bargaining, and provide access to appropriate grievance redressal mechanisms.”(P. 11). The right of workers to form and join organizations of their own choice is an integral part of a free and open society. Does that need to again figure in the voluntary guidelines? The rights and guarantees enshrined by International Labour Conventions 87 (on freedom of association) and 98 (on the right to collective bargaining) are available under the Indian Constitution to all citizens. Of course as part of the larger interest of social justice, business sustainability and declining public sector participation in the enterprise segment, government should ratify these two conventions, immediately, rather than putting them as part of voluntary guidelines, to make its implementation on a much more firmer, stronger and universal, across all kinds of entities. Is it an attempt to further dilute, already enjoying rights and freedom of association by the Indian working class?

However the question, that I would like to raise here, is green yet another opportunity only? How far people are serious about their talk about green? I think, business sustainability guidelines and other voluntary business responsibility initiatives that the corporate affairs ministry recently took, seems to be going in the direction of creation of a “reporting revolution”, where sustainability professionals creates a lots of reports about the activities that the companies already doing, without much contribution, may be, and much contribution & cost  to it.

The entire responsible business reporting initiative seems to be targeted at creating jobs for a new set of professional graduates created by a few elite organizations in the country owned by few corporate houses.

For the corporate affairs ministry, small scale sector is just ancillary industry and part of the larger supply chain and thus, responsible, green and ethical business practices do not form much of a priority? The whole premise on which responsible business reporting have been defined is ability to pay, it seems.

For instance take the statement, “develop governance structures, procedures and practices that ensure ethical conduct at all levels; and promote the adoption of this principle across its value chain”. The entire guidelines have an excess emphasis on this value chain, governance structures, procedures and practices. Here, authors, seems to have very little understanding about the structure of the Indian Industry, may be they have a very good understanding of corporate governance and for them SMEs are just vendors catering to some of the corporates, that they have come across in their corporate sector life.

As Arun Kurkute says, Indian corporates have to start obeying laws of the land beginning with non-discriminatory recruitment practices when it comes to hiring socially disadvantaged sections and disabled people; they should stop land-grabbing especially fertile agriculture land; private banks should stop using hired gundas for recovery. And, he says let them first start obeying the laws of the land and then no need of any guidelines!.

Though, theoretically the whole voluntary guidelines, looks excellent, it would create lot of reports in the years ahead, generate some jobs for report writers, if not a transition to responsible and green enterprise practices. But we must wait and see, when the business becomes responsible? Best luck to corporate affairs ministry!


More by :  Dr. P Koshy

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