Corporate Social Responsibility in India

Uploaded On: 12 Mar 2024 Author: CA Anil Girdhar Like (87) Comment (0)

Corporate Social Responsibility in India Present state of play, challenges and way forward

Simply put, CSR stands for Corporate Social Responsibility, which is a way for companies to take responsibility for their actions and how they affect society. It's not just about making money, but also about having an ethical and moral obligation towards the people and environment in which they operate. It's a way for companies to do things in a way that's good for the economy, the environment, and society as a whole. There are different avenues for CSR - each one having its own goals and objectives. Typically, CSR projects focus on social aspects like education, health care, poverty reduction, sustainability, skills, empowering women, and helping communities etc. Basically, it's about making a positive difference in society, improving people's lives, and committing to the better environmental practices.

In India, CSR has received significant attention in recent years, following the global trends of business practices getting socially more responsible. CSR in India has evolved from a voluntary initiative to a mandatory obligation for companies under the Companies Act, 2013. This report examines the current state of CSR in India, the challenges faced by companies, and suggests pathways to improve the effectiveness of CSR efforts in overall improving the life of down trodden.

Priority for CSR spend
The Companies Act 2013 lists a number of areas that may be taken up by CSR initiatives, taking into account current national priorities. This list can be used by companies to plan their CSR initiatives. It is important to focus on specific areas of national interest rather than random initiatives without any plan, as this can result in a more concentrated impact in a shorter period of time. This will reinforce the belief that collective and collaborative efforts can make a positive impact through CSR. To achieve CSR goals, it is essential to prioritize efforts and foster collaboration between corporations, governments and social organisations or between the donors & the beneficiaries in order to identify areas of work and take action in a timely manner.

Present State of CSR in India
CSR was a voluntary concept in India until 2014. Amongst the large corporate groups in India, TATA Group was the first to introduce the concept of wealth distribution for the benefit of society as a whole in 1912. India's technological prowess, skilled manpower, geographic reach and ability to compete with the world's best has created a sense of confidence and hope that India is on its way to become a global superpower. The economic liberalization that started in the early 1990s has given a new lease of life to this process. Now, the developing world looks to India to lead the way on how corporations can seamlessly integrate their efforts into the country's development processes. This integration is essential if any nation wants to leverage the power of its corporate sector for nation building purposes.

India's CSR
environment has undergone significant changes since the introduction of the Companies Act in 2013. The implementation of CSR in India is primarily governed by Section 135 of the Companies Act, 2013, which mandates that certain companies allocate a portion of their profits towards CSR activities.. For this reason, many companies have started CSR programs that address various social and environmental issues. These initiatives cover areas such as education, healthcare, poverty reduction, environmental sustainability, and skills development etc. Additionally, CSR initiatives in India have seen increased collaboration between businesses, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and government agencies. Such partnerships have led to innovative projects and improved implementation of CSR activities, amplifying their impact on communities.

Over the years, CSR in India has undergone a transformative journey, evolving from a voluntary philanthropic activity to a mandatory obligation embedded within the legal framework. The present state of CSR in India reflects a dynamic landscape shaped by legislative mandates, corporate initiatives, and a growing awareness of social responsibility.

Key Aspects of CSR in India:

  1. Mandatory CSR Spending: One of the most significant developments in the Indian CSR landscape was the enactment of the Companies Act, 2013. Section 135 of the Act made it mandatory for companies meeting specific criteria to spend a minimum percentage of their profits on CSR activities. This legal mandate has propelled a surge in CSR investments, directing corporate resources towards diverse social and environmental initiatives.

  2. Applicability Criteria: Companies with a net worth of INR 500 crore or more, or a turnover of INR 1,000 crore or more, or a net profit of INR 5 crore or more are required to comply with the CSR regulations.

  3. Focus Areas: CSR initiatives in India cover a broad spectrum of areas including education, healthcare, poverty alleviation, environmental sustainability, skill development, women empowerment, and rural development. Companies have the flexibility to choose specific focus areas based on their expertise and local community needs.

  4. Implementation through NGOs: The present state of CSR in India is marked by innovative partnerships between businesses, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and government agencies. Collaborative efforts have led to impactful projects, leveraging the strengths and expertise of different stakeholders. These partnerships have facilitated the implementation of sustainable programs that address community needs effectively.

  5. Reporting and Disclosure: Companies are required to disclose their CSR activities in their annual reports, specifying the initiatives undertaken, the amount spent, and the impact created. Transparency in reporting is a key aspect of CSR compliance.

  6. Stakeholder Engagement: Engaging with local communities, employees, customers, and other stakeholders is essential in the current CSR landscape. Effective stakeholder engagement ensures that CSR initiatives are aligned with the actual needs of the community, are culturally sensitive and undertaken with optimum resources.

  7. Sustainable Development: There is a growing emphasis on sustainable CSR initiatives. Companies are encouraged to invest in projects that have a long-term impact on the community and contribute to sustainable development goals.

  8. Skill Development and Livelihood: Skill development programs are a significant focus of CSR initiatives, aiming to enhance the employability of individuals from marginalized communities. Livelihood enhancement projects, such as vocational training and entrepreneurship development, are also common in prevalent CSR projects.

  9. Empowering Local Communities: CSR initiatives in India are increasingly focusing on empowering local communities. Projects are designed to ensure active participation and involvement of community members. This approach not only meets the immediate needs of the population but also fosters a sense of ownership and sustainability, as communities become active stakeholders in the development process.

  10. Challenges and Opportunities: While the present state of CSR in India is promising, certain challenges also persist. Measuring the impact of CSR initiatives accurately, ensuring the sustainability of projects, and alignment of  programs with local needs remain as the significant hurdles in the current process. Nonetheless, these challenges also present opportunities for innovation and strategic planning, as Companies are increasingly leveraging technology and data-driven approaches to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of their CSR initiatives.

Money Power of CSR:
At present, a significant amount of money is being allocated to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) by over 20,000 companies, amounting to over 26,000 crores. This expenditure has a far-reaching effect on the communities of the country. The Ministry of Corporate Affairs and National CSR portal provides valuable information on the spend and typical patterns / trends in CSR. This portal assists in concentrating the efforts in areas where CSR funds are not being allocated. The government desires that Corporates invest not only in the geographical area where their plants or head offices are located, but also in areas of extreme poverty. As corporate profits rise due to economic growth, the flow of funds will increase, resulting in an increase in CSR expenditure. Over the time, learnings from the past projects undertaken by Companies will result in increased capabilities to undertake larger CSR projects across broader geographies going forward. 

We also notice that in some Companies allocation of funds for CSR is higher than prescribed in law & some are spending as much as required by law, which is a very positive change. Corporate India also has a significant manpower, which is being keenly utilised for active participation on number of CSR projects funded by such companies. This section of employees certainly finds higher satisfaction from such contribution as they feel motivated by the positive change being created through CSR projects. Companies can make use of this vast talent pool to ensure the spend is utilised as per law & connect is made with ground staff & NGO communities.

Challenges Faced by Businesses in Implementing CSR

While CSR in India has made substantial progress, several challenges continue to exist in the system. These challenges include hurdles in measuring the impact of CSR activities accurately, ensuring the sustainability of projects, and addressing the diverse and complex social issues prevalent in the country, amongst other challenges discussed below.

Measuring impact: Assessing the actual impact of CSR initiatives is a complex task. Many companies have found it hard to accurately measure the program outcomes, making it difficult to determine the effectiveness of CSR investments. Though we have many agencies now working on impact assessment as mandated under Companies act 2013, particularly for projects with project spend of more than INR 1 Cr, making sure that benefit of each project reaches the last mile can be achieved only when all stakeholders are well aligned on each project. If the desired impact can be assessed in a systematic manner, then it will have even larger impact.  

Sustainability: Ensuring the sustainability of CSR projects remains a challenge. Many initiatives are short-term and lack long-term planning. Sustainable development requires continuous efforts & particular efforts on setting up an efficient & effective process. Companies need to focus on long-term projects that have a sustainable impact in order to have better impact on the society instead of focusing only on short term achievable goals.

Unilateral Decision-making: Many times, major decisions related to CSR are taken within closed boundary of financial incumbents of respective companies without involving community-based stakeholders of the project, which might result in gap in the expectations & actual results. In order to achieve desired results from any CSR project, unilateral decision making in planning as well as execution certainly plays an important role.

Lack of skills development: Effective implementation of CSR requires skilled professionals who can design, implement, and evaluate projects. Engaging more & more of such skilled professionals in CSR work is one of the most important challenges currently faced in India.

Engaging Stakeholders: Engaging with local communities and stakeholders is crucial for the success of CSR projects. Building trust and involving the community in the decision-making process are essential, but many companies struggle with effective stakeholder engagement strategies.

Lack of Disclosure of CSR Progress: The lack of dissemination of information regarding the progress of CSR has been a major issue in the field. Despite the fact that much work is getting done, the impact of such CSR work on the society is not being projected. Presentations of CSR progress are conducted within the confines of the relevant organisation, leaving the current community unaware of the potential advantages of CSR and its potential for further growth.

Narrow Perception about CSR: Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and

Government agencies usually possess a narrow outlook towards the CSR initiatives of the companies, often defining CSR initiatives more as donor-driven. As a result, corporates find it hard to decide whether they should participate in such activities at all in the medium and in the long run.

Legal Compliance: Ensuring legal compliance with CSR regulations is a challenge for many companies. Navigating the legal framework and understanding the reporting requirements can be daunting, especially for smaller businesses.

Lack of Consultation Process: One of the major challenges of CSR is paucity of consultation process. While implementing CSR projects, the organisations have very less interaction with grass-roots level agencies. It works more on top-down approach where the upper authority has more vertical functions. On vertical lines, it does not percolate in the development discourse. Therefore, CSR has been affected by a huge paucity of effective consultation among workers as well as its subjects.

Lack of Clear Strategy: One of the primary challenges in CSR implementation is the absence of a clear, well-defined strategy. Some companies engage in ad-hoc philanthropic activities without aligning them with their core business values and societal needs.

Limited Resources: Many businesses, especially smaller ones, face resource constraints. Limited financial resources, manpower, and time often hinder the implementation of impactful and sustainable CSR initiatives.

Balancing Short-term vs. Long-term Goals: Striking a balance between short-term, visible results and long-term sustainable impact is often difficult. Some companies may prioritize immediate, visible changes over long-term initiatives.

Despite its advantages, CSR in India has faced a variety of challenges. It is seen as a tool for social impact in India, with some academicians arguing that the government is attempting to replace its role as a regulator with that of a powerful business house. Additionally, CSR initiatives have been seen as a departure from traditional business roles. The challenge lies in how to use the company’s capabilities and competences to address social and environmental issues while still functioning effectively in the traditional business sense. As a result, CSR has been viewed from a variety of angles, with one side of society opposing ’ts activities and the other side supporting its growth. The most significant issue in India, despite making it as a regulatory requirement, has been the lack of budget allocation, followed by a lack of awareness of the true nature of CSR. As the CSR landscape continues to evolve, addressing challenges and maximizing opportunities are essential for the meaningful and sustainable implementation of CSR initiatives in India.

Way forward: Increasing the effectiveness of CSR initiatives

Strategic planning, cutting-edge technology, and a dedicated efforts on sustainable development are essential components of the future of CSR in India. Various strategies can be pursued to address the challenges faced by companies when implementing CSR initiatives. Here are some of the key strategies that can guide the future of CSR in India:

Promote awareness and education: Government agencies and industry associations should conduct awareness campaigns and workshops to educate companies about CSR regulations and best practices. Providing guidance and resources will help companies make informed decisions regarding their CSR activities.

Capacity Building and Skill Development: Investing in training and capacity building programs for CSR professionals can enhance their skills in project management, impact assessment, and stakeholder engagement. This can improve the overall effectiveness of CSR initiatives.

Encouraging Collaboration: Encouraging collaboration between businesses, NGOs, and government agencies can lead to more impactful CSR projects. Partnerships can bring together diverse expertise, resources, and perspectives, resulting in innovative and sustainable solutions to social challenges.

Focus on long-term sustainability: Companies should focus on developing sustainable CSR initiatives that address the root cause of social problems. Long-term planning, social integration, and continuous evaluation are essential to ensure the lasting impact of CSR projects.

Effective measurement of impact: To measure the impact of CSR initiatives, it is important to implement robust monitoring and evaluation mechanisms. Using a data-driven approach and involvement of experts in impact assessments can provide valuable insights into project effectiveness and guidance in future efforts.

Enhanced legal support: Reduce the burden of complex regulatory compliances by providing businesses with accessible legal support and clear guidance on CSR compliances. It helps companies meet their CSR obligations by simplifying reporting requirements and providing online resources.

Encouraging Innovation: Encouraging companies to invest in innovative solutions for social challenges can lead to transformative changes. Supporting research and development in areas such as renewable energy, healthcare technology, and education tools can result in innovative CSR initiatives with far-reaching impacts.

Recognize and reward excellence: Recognizing and celebrating exemplary CSR initiatives can inspire other companies to do the same. Awards, certifications and public recognition can encourage companies to invest more in their CSR activities and promote a culture of social responsibility.

Strengthen Partnerships: Collaboration between businesses, government agencies, non-profit organizations, and local communities can amplify the impact of CSR initiatives. Strong partnerships can leverage resources, expertise, and local knowledge, leading to more effective and sustainable projects.

Promote Ethical Business Practices: CSR goes beyond charitable giving; it should be integrated into the core values and operations of companies. Ethical business practices, including fair wages, ethical supply chain management, and environmental responsibility, are integral to CSR efforts.

Empower Women and Marginalized Communities: Empowering women and marginalized communities through education, skill development, and entrepreneurship can lead to social transformation. Companies should invest in initiatives that promote gender equality and social inclusion.

Address Healthcare Challenges: Healthcare is a critical area that requires attention. CSR initiatives can focus on improving healthcare infrastructure, providing affordable healthcare services, and supporting research and development in healthcare technologies.

Encourage Employee Engagement: Encouraging employees to actively participate in CSR initiatives fosters a sense of social responsibility among the workforce. Companies can support employee volunteering programs, matching donation schemes, and skill-based volunteering opportunities.

Advocate Policy Reforms: Businesses can play an active role in advocating for policy reforms that support CSR initiatives. Engaging with policymakers and providing valuable insights can contribute to the creation of a conducive environment for CSR activities.

Encourage Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs): Encourage SMEs to actively participate in CSR activities. While large corporations often have dedicated CSR departments, SMEs can also make a substantial impact by contributing to local community development.

Adaptation to Local Contexts: Recognize the diversity of India and encourage companies to tailor their CSR initiatives according to the specific needs of the regions they operate in. Localized solutions often have higher acceptance and impact.

Research and Development: Encourage companies to invest in research and development for long-term solutions to social problems. This could include funding research in areas such as renewable energy, healthcare, or agriculture to find sustainable solutions.

Despite the above list of ways of improving the CSR spending, one needs to keep in mind that the actual way forward for CSR in India will depend on various factors, including changes in government policies, economic conditions, and social needs. It’s essential for businesses, policymakers, and civil society to work together to ensure that CSR initiatives are effective, sustainable, and beneficial for the communities they intend to serve.

CSR has come a long way in India, evolving from a voluntary charity to a mandatory obligation for businesses. As discussed above, although significant progress has been made, a number of challenges, including lack of awareness, impact measurement, and ensuring sustainability need to be addressed. By promoting awareness, fostering collaboration, emphasizing sustainability, and providing appropriate support and resources, companies can overcome these challenges and increase the effectiveness of their CSR initiatives. The joint efforts of business, government and civil society are essential to building a more socially responsible and sustainable future for India.

Comments (0)