Cor­po­rate Re­spon­si­bil­ity

Be­yond Ba­bel

Consumer Voice - - Feature -

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

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