`Social responsibility low on priority list of Indian firms'

HYDERABAD Nov. 9. While the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) is busy pushing Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) as a "core business strategy'' for its members, not many Indian companies seem interested, according to the findings of a survey conducted by CII itself.

The report of this survey on corporate social responsibility was released at the fifth Social Summit of the CII held in Hyderabad from November 7 to 9 with the theme "Corporate social responsibility: from words to action''.

Commissioned jointly by the CII, the UNDP and the British Council, the survey was executed by Price Waterhouse Coopers (PWC) in the months of September and October 2002.

The survey report is intended to showcase corporate India's position with respect to fulfilling their social responsibility. Unfortunately, despite much spin and gloss, it has been difficult to hide the bare fact that Indian companies put CSR low on their priorities.

A total of 1000 companies were approached during this survey, but only 102 replied to the questionnaire sent to them. Even among these, many refused to provide full details, especially information about their spending on CSR, something ruefully accepted by Anuradha Tuli of PWC.

The survey shows that the desire to have a reputation as "good corporate citizen'' and improving the company's "brand image'' are some of the main drivers for most companies which practice CSR. In fact, it seems that for many companies mere compliance with regulatory requirements was considered as adequate social responsibility.

Approximately three out of every four respondents reported that they integrated environmental, health and safety issues into their CSR practice as a method of "pro-actively'' dealing with regulatory requirements.

During the discussion on this report, some participants of the Social Summit went to the extent of stating that "micro'' projects were "magnified'' in corporates' annual reports to showcase CSR. On top of this, an overwhelming majority of companies demanded tax/ excise/ custom benefits for CSR expenses.

This reluctance of Indian companies to voluntarily take up socially responsible business practices and involve themselves in community development works is also reflected in the fact that only 50 Indian companies have till now signed on the `Code of Social Conduct' jointly framed by CII and UNDP.

Perhaps it was this instrumental approach to fulfilling their social responsibility which led Jamshed J. Irani, Chairman, CII Social Development Council, to repeatedly emphasise the need for companies to have a "disinterested'' approach to CSR. Giving examples from the social work of TISCO, he said that money and work invested to uplift and empower deprived local communities would eventually come back to bolster the bottomlines of companies.

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