The ‘Make in India’ mantra appears incontestable and unarguable from an Indian point of view. The nation’s huge population of young people, a large section of who are educationally deprived, needs jobs. And millions of them. Without these opportunities, the well-worn promise of a demographic dividend looks like a distant dream. But there are doubts as to the conditions under which labour will be employed; how the economic rewards of the work will be distributed; and what the wider social impacts will be.
Corporate Responsibility Watch’s attempt to inject life into the notion of business responsibility could hardly be more timely. In India, the competing concerns of people, planet and profit have been harmonised effectively in the National Voluntary Guidelines (NVGs) – a landmark document representing different interest groups. But since 2013, with the advent of the Companies Act, another narrative has taken hold, prioritising philanthropy above other expressions of responsible business.
India’s continued poor performance in the Ease of Doing Business rankings has led to efforts to improve the situation, with the government aiming to make it into the top 50 at the earliest, and the top 100 by the time of the next ranking. But, as well performing states in India clearly illustrate, a relatively business friendly environment can coexist with failing public health and education systems. For these intractable problems, conventional corporate social responsibility might be a remedy, if not a solution. But these are not all. There are other pressing social concerns which India Inc. has a central role in addressing.
The area of labour and human rights is one such area, especially in the light of recent amendments to labour laws that effectively sanction certain forms of child labour, and the removal of safeguards to ensure decent work for Indian citizens. Companies, responsible for workforces that extend beyond offices and factories and into supply chains, should take careful stock of the nature of their engagement with people across multiple spaces, and the wider impacts. In this context, a renewed debate on business responsibility, as articulated in the NVGs, is an urgent requirement.
By providing tools to analyse companies’ discourses around these and other matters of social concern, the India Responsible Business Index represents an important contribution to this debate. The Index is an outcome of a collaborative partnership between Corporate Responsibility Watch, Oxfam India, Change Alliance, Praxis Institute for Participatory Practices and Partners In Change. It invites at least two kinds of action from our corporate partners. One – to use this Index to assess where they stand in terms of the parameters given here and two – to create, where they are not yet developed, policies which align with the NVGs, putting responsibility at the heart of business.