Corporate Social Responsibility doesn't always have to be done by the book

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Everyone is aware that India has witnessed a disastrous COVID-19 second wave. Some experts estimate that looking at all the crematoriums, rivers, and river banks, India has had more than a million deaths. COVID-19 has been tough for businesses as well. Demand has taken a strong hit. To make things easier for companies, states have allowed manufacturing plants to continue operations despite strict lockdowns across the state.

News broke out a couple of days ago that workers in Renault-Nissan's manufacturing unit in Chennai (Chennai is the capital city of Tamil Nadu state in Southern India.) have gone on strike. Renault and Nissan are global automobile manufacturers and work under a global partnership agreement sharing platforms and technologies to contain costs. They have a similar business model in India. Given that both are global companies, it is expected that operating guidelines at their manufacturing sites will be global in nature and companies will take care of employees' health in the ongoing pandemic. Apparently not the case.

Workers at the factory went on strike alleging that there was a lack of COVID safety. Tamil Nadu, at present, is one of the most adversely affected states in India because of COVID-19. What the workers are alleging makes me wonder about this idea called "Corporate Social Responsibility". Companies spend so much money on image building using these programs. However, they are standing naked on the stage when one really tests them in terms of how socially responsible they are. Profits are important but in times of a pandemic, companies need to be more careful about their employees. In general, they should be responsible for the employees, but these are desperate times. Such news is extremely detrimental to the image of a company and actually shows that while companies spend huge pools of money on pretending to look good, in reality, they are just doing things by the book and do not understand anything about social responsibility.

Over 200 workers are working on a conveyor at one time and it is not practically possible to implement social distancing among them. Most of us are only breadwinners of our families and we cannot put our lives at risk.

The matter of Renault-Nissan and its workers is in the court. Many companies in India are procuring vaccines for their staff. Shutting down plants for a few days, operating with half the staff can be done for a few weeks to ensure worker safety. No one is buying cars right now with markets shut and Renault-Nissan does terrible business in India. Shutting factories may impact the unit's exports. However, when the court has to make observations about the company's lack of care for the employees, one wonders what is wrong with companies and managers today.

Scared from what happened at Renault-Nissan, Hyundai Motors and Royal Enfield have also shut down their plants for a few days. Their reactive approach shows that they are only worried about the negative image such incidents create and not about employee safety. A socially responsible firm would have taken proactive decisions and not reactive ones. Hyundai, Royal Enfield

There is a law regarding CSR in India. It requires companies to spend 2% of annual profits over $750k on social issues. What is the point? Last year companies were asked to donate all the CSR funds to a new COVID dedicated fund created by India's Prime Minister. The use of those donations is unknown. I guess when those responsible for regulation and oversight of CSR need regulation and oversight, then expecting anything socially good out of companies is probably stupid.

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