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Corporate coffers not for us Phenomenon of corporate responsibility
- Calcutta expects the least from business houses, says study

It has taken the Bengal government 25 years to wake up to the benefits of public-private partnership to provide basic necessities like health and housing. So, can Calcuttans really be blamed for expecting the least from its corporate houses'

Calcutta is the “most conservative” of the metros when it comes to demanding a social commitment from Big Business. In a survey conducted by TERI-Europe (the Tata Energy Research Institute’s Europe wing) to gauge public perception of corporate responsibility, Calcutta shows the lowest level of expectations of social action from corporates.

Ritu Kumar, director TERI-Europe, presented the findings from a “snapshot poll” conducted in 2001 by ORG-Marg in Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Calcutta and Tiruppur (a textile town in Tamil Nadu), at the International Conference on Business-Social Partnership: Beyond Philanthropy, which kicked off on the Indian Institute of Management-Calcutta campus on Wednesday.

This puts the city at the bottom of the global-awareness barrel, as a 20-country survey conducted by the Toronto-based Environics International on the same issue revealed earlier — that India demanded the least social responsibility from its corporations. The lowest price tag, and not ethics, is what buys consumer loyalty in India.

The TERI survey included the “general public” (men and women between 15 and 65 years from the “upper socio-economic classes”); skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled workers, unionised and non-unionised; and corporate executives. Of the 1,212 people polled in the five centres, 1,003 were “public representatives”.

While executives picked “depletion of natural resources” as the main problem, workers believed that the “spread of human diseases” and “overpopulation” were critical. The public voice prioritised “pollution/environmental problems” and “spread of human diseases”. The “growing power of global companies” was the lowest on the scale of problem issues for all three groups.

The consumer, it appears, is just not ready to demand greater community involvement from India Inc. While 58 per cent of all people surveyed felt that “brand quality and reputation” was the most important factor in forming opinion of a company, 12 per cent held that “environmental impacts” were critical.

“Responsibility to the broader society” was the key for 11 per cent, economic contribution and labour practices for another 10 and nine per cent, respectively.

But the numbers should not put the socially conscious off, assures Kumar. “These are healthy figures, as corporate responsibility is a recent phenomenon,” says Kumar.

The four-day conference (ending December 7), the product of “studies” conducted by IIM-C in the area, is just the “launching pad” for future initiatives at Joka. TERI is “hoping” to develop training modules in conjunction with the B-school, as well as others across the country and Europe, on the basis of its findings.

The conference grew out of a “series of studies on corporate responsibility and the social sector”. Says Sunita Singh-Sengupta, faculty, behavioural sciences department, and convener for the conference: “We found that the corporates really do not have a thought-out strategy yet.”

Business, academics and government have all been invited to participate. So, corporate houses — like Tata Sons (director J.J. Irani delivered the inaugural address on Wednesday), Coal India and ITC — are involved, the Governor has been invited to close proceedings and NGOs and universities from India and abroad are participating as speakers and audience.

A post-conference publication with suggestions on how to build partnerships is part of the follow-up plan. “We have had talks with the British Council and TERI about developing a curricular component on this issue as well,” adds Singh-Sengupta.

Though IIM-C students will not present any papers at the meet, they have been involved behind the scenes. And they have already sown the seeds of socially-responsible leadership, setting up two groups — Initiative for Community Action and Parivaar — which take up development projects in and around the city.

"Responsibility to the broader society" was key for a further 11 per cent, economic contribution and labour practices for another 10 and nine per cent respectively.

But the numbers should not put the socially conscious off, assures Kumar. “These are healthy figures, as corporate responsibility is a recent phenomenon," said Kumar.

The conference, the product of “studies” conducted by IIM-C in the area, is the launching pad for future initiatives. TERI is “hoping” to develop training modules in conjunction with the B-school, as well as others across the country and Europe, on the basis of its findings.

The conference grew out of a “series of studies on corporate responsibility and the social sector” Says Sunita Singh-Sengupta, faculty, behavioural sciences department and convenor for the conference: “We found that the corporates really do not have a thought out strategy yet.” A post-conference publication with suggestions on how to build partnerships is planned. “We have had talks with the British Council and TERI about developing a curricular component on this issue as well,” adds Singh-Sengupta.

Though IIM-C students will not present any papers at the four-day meet involving industry, academia and the developmental sector, they have been involved behind the scenes. The students have set up two groups – Initiative for Community Action and Parivaar – which take up social projects in and around the city.

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