“How do we make responsible business a part of our DNA?” asked Anil Padmanabhan, Session Chair and Executive Editor, Mint, as he began the 2nd panel discussion at IRBF 2017.
The topic being discussed was what drives business responsibility. The panel was an interesting mix of business leaders, academics and policymakers who shared their insights.
Driving forces for business responsibility
“What is driving companies to become more responsible – investor pressure, consumer awareness abroad and demand for skilled labor”, said Vikas Goswami, Head-Good & Green, Godrej Industries.
Speaking about the role of investors, Elin Anstrom, Sustainability Manager, H&M India said, “ Yes, investors have expectations and we need to make better decisions.”
driving companies to become more responsible
Sustainability is not a side business
Ms. Anstrom said that H&M takes sustainability seriously. She said, “Sustainability is not a side business for us. We know that we can’t operate the way we were operating before. We have a clear commitment to sustainability… we’re looking at how to stop using virgin materials.”
She also admitted that H&M doesn’t have all the answers about sustainability.
“We also use the term sustainability”, said Rachana Panda, Chief Communications Officer & Citizenship Leader, GE South Asia. She said, “We follow a very clear line of sight and take clear action. Managers are rated on sustainability tasks.” She mentioned GE has a growth strategy called Ecomagination to reduce its environmental impact and invest in cleaner technology.
BALANCING PROFITABILITY & SUSTAINABILITY
Ms. Goswami spoke about Godrej’s Good & Green strategy but she also asked how profitability and sustainability can be balanced.
“There is no universal truth or universal right”, she said.
Sharing H&M’s approach to sustainability & growth, Ms. Anstrom said, “H&M sees sustainability as a part of the customer offer. We have a garment collection initiative…we look at sustainability in the long term.” She also pointed out that H&M introduced a code of conduct 3 decades ago.
Ms. Goswami said that in order to make Godrej’s supply chain more inclusive, the company has a code of conduct for its suppliers. Talking about the need to combine innovation & sustainability, she said, “Resource constraint is a reality…today we’re talking about zero waste and cradle to cradle cycles.”
WHERE DO WE DRAW THE LINE WITH CSR?
“If there is a loss of democratic rights, do you want corporates to take over the delivery of human rights?” asked Prabhir Vishnu Poruthiyil, Professor, IIM Trichy while offering a completely different perspective on corporate responsibility.
Prof. Poruthiyil talked about the Women and Child Ministry’s decision of handing over the construction of 4,000 anganwadis to a mining company. He said, “Do you want to hand over the nutrition of our kids to a company known for human right violations?”
Expressing his views on the dire state of inequality, he said, “In a country like ours, inequality compounds one over the other and becomes harsher. The India Exclusion report by Harsh Mander shows that inequality tends to multiply.”
“ CSR is a logically confused construct” said Prof. Poruthiyil.
Ms. Goswami outlined the importance of an active civil society. She said, “ The civil society should ask uncomfortable questions from business and government to up the bar. Don’t place more onus on business than it deserves.”
Prof. Poruthiyil questioned companies and the inherent contradiction of CSR. He asked, “Will companies focus on contradictions? We have to draw a line with how much money we’re making. ILO has said that there is a lack of collective bargaining in the developing world. Ambedkar said we’re entering a world of contradiction. Would H&M promote a no-buy movement?”
Speaking about H&M’s efforts to be more responsible, Ms. Anstrom said, “We need to become 100% circular. Business needs innovative driving forces.”
Ms. Panda said changing businesses takes time. She said, “We need more goodness.”
Challenging the notion of profits over people and the planet, Prof. Poruthiyil said, “There is no win win situation. We have to amplify the cause of the people suffering.”
The third panel discussion at IRBF 2017 was about ‘Responsible Investments in India – myth or reality?’ Read about it here.