Indian firms look to CSR

31 August 2011

NEW DELHI: Some of the biggest brand owners in India are enhancing their corporate social responsibility credentials, an area where many companies have lagged behind to date.

Mahindra & Mahindra, a conglomerate present in sectors from the automotive industry to financial services and retail, recently unveiled its "Spark the Rise" scheme with high-profile TV spots.

This six-month online effort asks firms, individuals and not-for-profits to submit ideas for solving major challenges facing India, with web users able to vote on the best suggestions, which then receive grants, alongside proposals chosen by expert judges.

Anand Mahindra, the company's managing director, said: "The most powerful companies of the future will be those which not only create value for the shareholders but also for the community ... What we are doing is starting a movement."

Elsewhere, Tata Steel launched the "Values stronger than steel" campaign earlier this year, promoting its programmes in fields like sustainability and green technology.

As well as a dedicated website, Tata Steel has used television, cinema, outdoor, radio and print advertising, sponsorship of the Indian cricket team, online video, social media, and is planning to show advertiser-funded content on TV news channels.

Prabhat Sharma, Tata Steel's head of corporate affairs, said: "It is a stand-alone corporate campaign showing that our commitment is beyond steel-making. Tata Steel stands for certain values but there is a need to reinforce them to everyone."

Coal India, the country's largest coal producer, now commits 5% of its retained profit to CSR, based on a belief this activity will reverse the slow growth recorded in the recent past.

"Coal India needs land on a continuous basis as a raw material. So, the basic thrust is to get land ... For that, certain initiatives need to be taken such that people give us land, and these will include CSR and environment responsibilities," said NC Jha, Coal India's chairman.

Ford, the US automaker, has engaged in numerous CSR programmes in India, covering everything from providing free lessons to encourage safer driving to donating PCs to good causes.

Michael Boneham, president and MD, Ford India, said: "While we do not market our CSR initiatives, somewhere, it does trickle down to help the brand grow. Henry Ford's philosophy - that a business that makes nothing but money is a poor business - is inherent in our DNA."

As previously reported, research by KPMG, consultancy, found that India's biggest companies have been hesitant to act in areas such as sustainability thus far.

Data sourced from Hindustan Times/CauseBecause; additional content by Warc staff