Page 74 - Shashwat - Restoring Green Economy
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                                                             Achilles’ heel of most companies in India, which have
                                                             little visibility on human rights issues beyond their tier-1

                                                             Another critical component focuses on communities
                                                             around production sites. Many people, most likely
                                                             involuntarily, gave up the land on which a factory or
                                                             other facility has been built. Apart from any (and very
                                                             likely inadequate) compensation they may have received
                                                             at that time, they now get very little benefit from the
                                                             development. India’s government may mandate that 2% of
                                                             company profits must go to CSR projects, but even if that
                                                             money filters through, it is unlikely to compensate for the
                                                             huge costs of pollution, water use, and other disruptions.
             converge into one overarching theme i.e., climate change   Worse, the COVID-19 pandemic has driven huge numbers
             mitigation – that is, reducing greenhouse gas (GHG)   of people back to their villages. With extremely limited
             emissions through renewable energy (RE), electric vehicles   employment opportunities, communities are increasingly
             (EVs), and wider net-zero strategies.
                                                             expecting more from companies that have plants in their
             Reading–or listening–between the lines of exchanges   midst. Since communities now provide the ‘license to
             will lead to only a fleeting discussion on the ‘S’ part of the   operate’, at least some companies are waking up to the
             formula. This usually grinds to a halt around diversity. And   need to respond proactively and positively to community
             if we think about India, the conversation rarely goes beyond   needs and aspirations to ensure business continuity.
             gender. That, sadly, seems to be the ‘be-all-and-end-all’ of   Another ‘S’ component is safety. While most established
                                                             companies invest in safety training, processes and
             Anyone who has watched the ESG agenda evolve from   equipment, much of this is restricted to their own
             early discussions on the triple bottom line will be able to   workforce. What is less clear is the extent to which these
             understand that there is far more to it than that, especially   investments cover contract and casual labour working
             in emerging economies like India. As companies outsource   in their plants. And too often, firms also fail to track
             their activities, their dependence on supply chains increases   related investments made by suppliers, despite the
             and this is where they become extremely vulnerable to the ‘S’   fact that accidents and casualties in supply chains can
             agenda.                                         disrupt their own operations. Thus, it is in the interests
                                                             of companies that they continuously expand the scope of
             This was true before the COVID-19, but the pandemic   safe operations.
             harshly spotlighted the plight of informal workers—many
             of them migrants—who make up the base of the economic   Hence, the ‘S’ story and the parallel convergent stories
             and (not coincidentally) social pyramid, mired via exclusion   for the economic, environmental, and governance
             on accounts of gender, caste, identity, disability, and so on.   dimensions too are present. Given space constraints,
             Such people make a massive contribution to India’s wealth,   those have to be stories for another time!
             generally by working in MSMEs (micro, small and medium-
             sized enterprises), which are themselves an integral part of
             the supply chains of large companies, in construction (at
             building sites, most obviously, but also in the production of
             red bricks, stones, sand, aggregates), in the gig economy, and
             as contract and casual labour.
             Their term of employment precisely characterizes the lack of
             terms of employment. Human rights violations are the norm,
             be it in wages, working and living conditions, and safety—
             with scant, if any, investment made in training. This is the
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