NEW DELHI, May 6 (OneWorld) - Dutch companies working in India are under fire for ignoring issues such as graft and religious bigotry in violation of corporate social responsibility norms.
"Companies are under increasing pressure from society to undertake their social responsibility," says a new report -- 'Corporate Social Responsibility - Policy and practices of Dutch companies'. "This is especially so if it concerns companies with a business relation in a developing country, since these companies are more confronted with corporate social responsibility (CSR) issues," it says.
The report points out that most companies do not monitor if their policy is being implemented. Hardly any company checks if internationally-accepted norms on child labor and other human rights are being followed by their sub-contracting units.
"Dutch companies in India only very partially practice corporate social responsibility," says the Dutch NGO, India Committee of the Netherlands (ICN), which conducted the study released last week. "Most multinationals do have an official corporate policy or a code of conduct on the issue, but hardly involve their Indian daughter company in its development," it says.
Nongovernmental Organizations (NGOs) in the Netherlands have chalked out a framework for CSR based on international treaties or guidelines on issues such as human and workers' rights, environmental and consumer protection, corruption and socio-economic development.
Under the framework, companies are expected to "do whatever they can" to promote human rights in countries where they operate.
Companies are expected to "ensure respect" for national sovereignty and local communities, not engage in or support the use of forced labor, contribute to the abolition of child labor and ensure occupational health and safety.
"CSR can help improve labor conditions, fight child labor, create a better environment," says ICN coordinator Gerard Oonk. "If Trans-National Companies, for example, raise their standards and improve monitoring, especially in terms of social and environmental demands with regard to sub-contractors, then this would mean a lot for those in the informal or unorganized sector," Oonk holds.
The report does not mention the names of the companies surveyed, saying that it is necessary to maintain anonymity for the firms to co-operate. It zeroed in on 40 companies from 19 fields - including food and food processing, energy, information technology, car-parts, fishery, tourism, spices, leather, ship breaking and pharmaceuticals.
The report stresses on the need for foreign companies to disclose key information to the Indian public about environmental, labor and human right practices, "especially since current trends are conferring unprecedented rights to multinational corporations operating in India."
The report says that companies are wary of taking a position against the government on issues such as human right violations in Gujarat - where at least 2000 people were killed in anti-Muslim riots in 2002 - because they believe that it may adversely affect their business operations.
Corruption is another serious issue, the report stresses, pointing out that a company can be prosecuted in the Netherlands for corrupt practices followed abroad.
"Most companies, both Dutch and Indian, acknowledge that corruption is an obstacle to do business in India and that they have been confronted with it some way or another, mostly at customs," it says.
Several companies make a distinction between corruption and "facilitation payments," arguing that the latter should not be seen as graft as it is a way of avoiding red tape.
There is similar ambivalence when it comes to trade unions. "Although all companies acknowledge the right of their employees to organize, they seem less eager in the Indian context," says the report.
It cites several reasons for this. A manager of a Dutch company says that he tries to keep trade unions out of the daughter company in India because he has been told they are corrupt. It says that only ten percent of workers in the leather industry are unionized because most employees are not educated.
"Several Indian stakeholders mentioned that trade unions in India are not fully independent and are closely affiliated to political parties," it says.
On child labor, while all companies have banned the employment of children, not every firm strictly enforces this when it comes to their Indian suppliers.
"Not all companies make it very clear to their suppliers that they do not tolerate child labor," the report says.
The practice of non-discrimination with respect to workers is under question when it comes to recruiting women or dalits, members of the so-called lower castes.
"Women are mainly employed in low qualified jobs in informal labor. Several companies employ dalits, and say that they treat them the same as other castes, but in practice they still have the lowest jobs," it says.
The report recommends that mother companies ensure implementation of CSR policy by a daughter company in different ways - such as through sanctions, incentives, training, accountability and involvement in policy development.
Oonk points out that efforts are on to involve Dutch companies in the newly-set up, government-funded CSR Centers in The Netherlands.
"We will also use the study to convince our government that non-implementation of CSR standards is not an exception but rather the rule and that, therefore, they have to push companies harder to implement them," he says.
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