Corporate Responsibility Social Sustainability and Global Spirituality

Modern business is moving along with Profitability to Sustainability and Spirituality. CSR is the vehicle that carries the business houses along the roads of planet care, people concern and profit accumulation. The revelations of many CEOs regarding Charity/Philanthropy/CSR make clear a spiritual inspiration beyond the mere materialistic objectives.

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By Dr.(Prof.) T V Muralivallabhan 

Corporate Social Responsibility only entered popular lexicon in the 1950s with R Bowen’s land mark book   ‘Social Responsibilities of Businessman’. Before 1950s state intervention to regulate economic activity were widely accepted as economic orthodoxy. Ralf Nader, an American political activist, author, activist in consumer protection, environmentalism and government causes, introduced the term Corporate Welfare in 1956. It was intended to study corporate subsidies to welfare payments of the poor.    Between 1950 and 1980, along with the social activism in the US in 1960s and demand for environment and labour standards, there arose a new approach towards business activity. Thus, the first widely accepted definition of CSR by Archie Carroll covered the economic, legal, ethical and philanthropic responsibilities that came in the 1970s. The 1980s brought the application of quality management to occupational health and safety and the introduction of CSR codes like responsible care.

CSR is a bridge that connects the accelerated production and profit with the sustainability of society and environment. It is also a bridge that connects the success of science and technology in business with religion and spirituality (values) of life, in the form of charity and philanthropy.

The Grey Period of Business

Milton Friedman the economist of the Monetarist school in 1970s that “ there is only one and only one social responsibility of business- to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profit…”. He also added that  the Social Responsibility of Business was to Increase the  Profits.  This depicts the grey period of business activity thanks to the privatizing of profits and socializing of losses by the corporates.

The total Global wealth has now reached USD 280 Trillion and is 27% higher than a decade ago. The wealthiest 1% own 50.1 % of all house hold wealth in the world. Global wealth is expected to rise by 50 % over the next decade, reaching $ 321 trillion by 2027.(Credit Suisse Research Institute’s Wealth Report, 2017, 8th edition)

“ The vast wealth of power of corporations is at the heart of so many of the world’s problems – like inequality and climate change” said Nick Dearden the Director of Global Justice.

The anthropocentric approach in business has done irreparable damage to nature and we are suffering it in the form of Climate change, global warming, Ozone depletion, Pollution of air, water and soil, acid rain and toxic wastes. Hence business firms were demanded to bear the responsibility of losses incurred by them in the mad race for profit. Regulations like Polluters Pay Principle became the stepping stone towards CSR.

Green Present – Growth of CSR

The 1990s witnessed radical changes in the world of governance, both corporate and state. In 2005, a series of articles published in The Economist, castigated Corporate Responsibility as a folly of managers. In 2008 again when CSR was featured in the Economist, 96% of the managers believed that CSR offered value for money and 56% agreed that it deserved a high priority.The UN Global Compact  (UNGC), the world’s largest sustainability initiative is there to encourage businesses, state and civil societies to adopt sustainable and socially responsible policies.

CSR is the biggest opportunity both for the public and private sector to contribute simultaneously to nation building efforts and  solution to global problems,  by making an integrated effort through using financial, human, infrastructural, technical, administrative, organizational, religious and spiritual resources. Sustainable development and inclusive growth from a multidimensional angle are the broad objectives of CSR all over the world.

Environmental, economic and social sustainability (Sustainable Development) became the trio goals of development through CSR in a large number of companies. This was also reflected in the corporate polices and thus along with CSR, sustainability also became an inevitable part of global corporate governance. “The orientation towards sustainable value in terms of human, social, environmental and economic capital is at the crux of CSR.” (Madhumita Chatterji, Corporate Social Responsibility, OUP, 2011, Preface).

“CSR refers to the firms’ consideration of and response to issues beyond narrow economic, technical and legal requirements of the firm”( Sharma and Mehta, 2002)

Thus the CSR performance of a company is measured by the triple bottom line sustainability in crucial areas – social, financial and environmental.

Ever Green Future – Corporate Social Responsibility, Sustainability and Spirituality (CSRSS)

Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of FB said, “progress now requires humanity coming together not just as cities/nations, but also as a global community”. He speaks of a social infrastructure – may be relations or connectivity. (TOI, 18/02/ 17) Here we can see the move towards the feeling of oneness in terms of relationships. Just like members of one family  – vasudhaivakudumbakam – we are supposed to live on this planet.

Various religious beliefs, customs and practices aim at raising the ordinary human mind to a holistic vision of the omnipresent and the omnipotent, through the eternal values like Truth, love, compassion, cooperation, empathy etc. When the human mind grows and expands beyond the self and feels one with the entire universe, spirituality begins. Real religious belief system, rituals and practices are only the preliminary and primary steps towards the realization of these Universal Values. When business grows beyond the firm and spreads itself in the form of drivers of social change through charitable, responsible philanthropic activities, the material profit becomes the spiritual capital and CSR becomes a religious activity – an activity that sustains and includes the whole nature.

Business of man which is based on an organic responsibility to Nature assures the sustainability of all. Integration of human resources with natural resources is the essence of modern business. The Indian spiritual tradition assures us a full harmony between individual (vyashti), society (Samashti), Nature/ resources (Srishti) and The Absolute (Parameshti). It is high time that modern Profit Priority in Business (PPB) should simultaneously consider Planet (Nature) and People(society) Priority in Business (PPPB).

“ Charity was by and large motivated by religion and spirituality… very often charity was linked to business interests and practices. Studies by Rudner (1995) and Baylee (1983) have clearly shown that religious giving was often linked to social credit worthiness and this in itself was self reinforcing and self-fulfilling.”  Hence it can be considered on a quid pro quo basis.

Why Millionaires are giving away their wealth (TOI,17/11/2017)

Infosys co-founder and tech billionaire Nandan Nilekani and his wife Rohini Nilekani have joined “The Giving Pledge”, an elite network of the world’s wealthiest individuals, created by Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett, in 2010, where these people have committed to give half of their wealth. The Giving Pledge website uploaded Nilekani’s letter signing up for the cause.

The letter said, “We thank Bill and Melinda for creating this unique opportunity to realise the moral aspiration inspired by the Bhagavat Gita,

 “Karmanye Vadhikaraste Ma  phaleshu kadachana

Ma karma phala heturbhurma Te sangostva karmani”

We have a right to do our duty, but no automatic right to the fruits from the doing. It is critical that we do not slip into inaction fearing that we may not be able to reap direct reward. It is to this ideal that we pledge”.(TOI,21/11/2017)

They have also given away about 10% of their current net worth to ‘Arghyam’ foundation that she set up in 2001, which works on water sanitation. They say, “Wealth has real responsibility attached to it. It has to be deployed for greater good, otherwise why such wealth creation even be allowed? So it is my responsibility to give it forward”.

‘It is a sense of responsibility, an acute awareness of pervasive inequity and mindfulness of privilege, that move some first generation billionaires to start giving away large portions of the money they spent half a life time acquiring’.

Billionaire investor Rakesh Jhunjhunwala, who has pledged to give away around Rs. 5000 crore when he turns 60 in 2020 says he was inspired by his Philanthropist father, who was very pious and religious.

“India has around 2% of world’s millionaires and 5% of world’s billionaires, and it is also home to  the highest population of undernourished in the  world. This contrast of excess wealth and destitution is a motivation factor to give’ says chandrika Sahai, coordinator, Philanthropy for social justice and peace.” Behind this contrast, comes the feeling of oneness out of which charity comes.

Wipro Chairman Azim Premji says india has always had a tradition of Philanthropy. He is considered India’s most charitable billionaire, having donated more than Rs. 63000 crore since 2001, most of it towards improving education through his foundation. He adds that those who have wealth are really trustees of wealth, and not its owners.

Islam popularised Zakat, which demanded a portion of acquired wealth and accumulated profit dedicated for the purpose of charity. The tenet of giving was central to Christians as well. Bible says, “Let thy right hand not know what thy left hand gives”. Jainism also encouraged charity and many hospitals, rest houses and libraries were built with the contribution from the rich.

Religions are very important social institutions that influence human mind.  84 percent of human beings belong to one or the other of the thousands of major and minor belief systems in the world.

“ The effort to build a sustainable world could advance dramatically  if religious people and institutions, on one hand, and  environmentalists and advocates of sustainable development on the other were to embrace each other’s central concerns”( World Watch Paper-164, 2002).

The advocates of sustainability have strong roots in science and religious traditions; enjoy strong moral authority along with broad grassroots presence capable to shape life styles of billions of people. The inclusion of corporate business houses to this combination will only accelerate the progress towards a sustainable world through spirituality.

Factories/industries are the temples where ‘work is worship’ (Swami Vivekananda). Workers are devotees, without devotees, there is no temple. When work becomes worship, automatically, production will be increased. The poojaris are managers,  and the profit is the prasada. The responsible management of the temples can take an appropriate decision to distribute the profit of prasada to mitigate the sufferings of the people.

About the Author: Dr.(Prof.) T V Muralivallabhan is an International Resource person in the area Eco-spirituality, Sustainable development and CSR. He is also the Independent Director of MSTC, Kolkata and Chairman of the CSR Committee there. The above article is the summarized version of the paper presented in the recently held World Parliament of Religions 2018, in Toronto, Canada.

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