AAt the outset, let me mention the fact that in the title of this post lies a Freudian slip. The intended title was ‘Corporate Responsibility – Beyond Labels’. But the new—unintended— title captures the thought perfectly. (And I’ll come back to that in closing.)
few years ago, Third Eyesight was asked by a multi-billion-dollar global consumer brand to facilitate a roundtable discussion focussing on the issue of how to drive ethical behaviour and sustainable business models into their sector. This company had a well-documented strategy and action plan until 2020, and their team was travelling together in India visiting other corporate and noncorporate initiatives, to learn from them.
For the round table, we brought together brands, retailers, manufacturers, compliance audit and certification agencies, craft- and community-oriented organizations, and non-government organizations (NGOs working on environment stewardship). Some were intrinsically linked to the consumer goods/retail sector, others were not. Among those present was Ramon Magsaysay award winner Mr Rajendra Singh of Tarun Bharat Sangh, an organization that had, over several years, worked in recharging thousands of water reservoirs leading to the rebirth of several rivers.
The diversity (and sometimes total divergence) in views among the participants was a powerful driver for the debate during the day, which was the main intention behind having a really mixed group.
(Try this experiment yourself. Get a bunch of people together who define their work as being in the ‘corporate responsibility’ stream. Then ask them the meaning of that phrase, and watch the entirely different tracks people move on. You might be left wondering whether they were really working towards a common goal.)
At the end, though, the result was productive, since the divergent perspectives opened avenues that may have previously not been visible. The topics that were covered included labour standards and compliance, reduction of product-development footprint, closedloop supply chains, water management, organic raw materials, energy conservation and community involvement in business. Some of the issues raised were: • How are learnings from green factories consolidated and disseminated to other suppliers? • How do companies plan to continue to support sustainability and corporate responsibility initiatives considering the drastic economic changes and the dire retail scenario? • What does fair trade have to do with
sustainability? • Minimum wage versus living wage • Trade barriers and the need for government
support for green products • Why labour laws are not being followed? Are the laws outdated and impossible to follow? Are there any other reasons, which could be dealt with by companies themselves? • Can consumer consciousness and pressures be brought to bear? Does the question ‘Is the product I am buying ethically produced’ come in the mind of an Indian consumer? Or even to the mind of the Indian retailer? • The need to address the core issue of unbalanced demand and supply of workforce in cities • What should responsible and aware companies do to stop other companies from polluting rivers and water systems? • The role of village craft in providing learnings
on efficient and responsible use of resources
Them. I. Us
My view is that these diverse areas and views can be aligned most effectively if we look at responsibility and sustainability in all their dimensions. These dimensions, to my mind, are: - The environment - The community - The organization - The individual Most corporate responsibility/sustainability initiatives end up addressing only one of the