By Oxfam India
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Recap of IRBF 2018 – Highlights from the conference

The 3rd India Responsible Business Forum conference spanned over an entire day. It saw the unveiling of the IRBI 2017. Here’s a brief recap of what happened at IRBF 2018.

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The 3rd India Responsible Business Forum conference spanned over an entire day. It saw the release of the Making Growth Inclusive Report 2018, along with the India Responsible Business Index 2017.

Here’s a brief recap of what happened at IRBF 2018.

The 3 ways in which business perpetuates inequality

Nisha Agrawal, CEO, Oxfam India spoke about Widening Gaps, a recently launched report which throws light on inequality in India. She said, “Data shows that inequality is very high in India and is rising sharply. We are here to discuss what business is doing to perpetuate this inequality.”

According to Nisha, the increasing inequality can be largely attributed to three reasons – rapidly decreasing profits earned by the labour force, increasingly huge salaries of CEOs vs. low salaries for labour and the allocation of majority of CSR funds to projects in the richest states of India.

IRBF 2018



‘Not much has changed in the last 3 years’

Tom Thomas, CEO, Praxis India shared his mixed feelings about corporations and the regulations imposed on them. He said, “Nothing much has changed in the last three years, nobody seems to be bothered about the community as a stakeholder.”

In Tom’s opinion, the most disappointing sector was finance and banking. “All the companies belonging to this sector have performed badly on all five parameters of IRBI 2017,” he said.

Speaking about using the power of data to drive change, he said,“ If we want to bring change, this business responsibility data needs to reach a wider audience of stakeholders like students in campuses and consumers.”

What does the India Responsible Business Index 2017 show?

The major findings of IRBI 2017 were shared by Namit Agarwal, Lead Specialist, Private Sector Engagement, Oxfam India and Dheeraj, Senior Programme Officer, Praxis India. The index shows:

More than 50 companies identified women, persons with disabilities, scheduled caste and religious minorities as vulnerable groups

32 companies indicate sexual minorities, only 18 companies explicitly mention scheduled tribes

The FMCG sector is leading the way in community development with an average score of 0.65

Two sectors – Finance and IT, Telecom, Media & Publishing score the least in ‘respecting employee dignity and human rights’

In line with previous IRBI, PSUs show a higher level of commitment to index elements than private companies

The makers of the index admitted that there has been little improvement in terms of companies making policy commitments to doing business responsibly. “Majority of the companies are in the bottom range of the index,” said Pradeep Narayanan, Director, Partners in Change.

If you’d like to learn about other findings, read Making Growth Inclusive Report 2018.

Civil society members also urged the business community to look at the index in the current Indian context. “You can’t look at these figures without looking at the current socio-economic happenings,” said Amita Joseph, Director, Business Community Foundation.

Listening to communities and demanding due diligence

The conference also acted as platform for industry experts, business leaders and civil society representatives to discuss strategies for business responsibility.

During a discussion on how companies can engage communities, Chetna Gala Sinha, founder and chair of Mann Deshi Bank said, “Listen to your community and design the product for them accordingly, they’ll be ready to pay for that. Never give poor solutions to poor people.”

Here are other highlights from this discussion – What can companies do to engage communities – voices from IRBF 2018.

In another session on transparency in business supply chains, Phil Bloomer, Executive Director, Business and Human Rights Resource Centre emphasised on the “need to move towards due diligence and provide incentives to companies who want to change.”

If you’d like to read more about this session , read 4 major insights on transparency in supply chains from IRBF 2018



A case of bad investment – the story of tea plantation workers

Anirudha Nagar, South Asia Director, Accountability Counsel presented a case study on how investors can make bad investments by endorsing unfair supply chains. He spoke about how tea plantation workers of an Indian company were “paid low wages”, “had poor living conditions” and “were exposed to dangerous pesticides.”

The session about investing in equality and dignity of people delved deeper into this issue. Harpreet Kaur, Deputy Director, Genpact Centre for Women’s Leadership, Ashoka University spoke about the need to invest in gender equality at work.

She said, “85% of the global workforce in the garment manufacturing sector are women yet there is not even a single woman CEO among the top 15 apparel companies.”

Read: 5 things we learned about investing in equality and dignity from IRBF 2018

The way forward for responsible business in India

Viraf Mehta, Adviser, Partners in Change, spoke about the upcoming version of BRR & NVGs 2.0. He revealed that the government might make regulatory framework completely mandatory.

“There is an unanimous opinion to drop the word voluntary from National Voluntary Guidelines,” he said.

Pawan Mehra, Managing Director, cKinetics insisted on the need to leverage investors voices on business transparency. “We need to create a robust mechanism for accountability to promote responsible investment,” he said.

Priti Darooka, South Asia Representative, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre spoke about the importance of documentation. “Documenting cases will highlight invisible incidents and tell stories of human rights violations,” she said.

Drawing the event to a close, Ranu Bhogal, Director, Policy, Research & Campaigns, Oxfam India shared her thoughts. She said, “IRBF partners cannot work alone on the huge amount of work that is proposed. We need to build pressure from the bottom and identify champions in each stakeholder group.”