India CSR News Network
MUMBAI: Think of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and you might envision schools, hospitals and rural development. The most vivid image of CSR at Tata Chemicals, however, is a whale shark, the largest fish in the ocean, which the company has been working to save from extinction along the Gujarat coast.
Ten years ago, at a time when whale sharks were being massacred at the rate of 500 a year, Tata Chemicals joined hands with the Wildlife Trust of India to launch a series of programs to spread awareness and save the endangered species.
The campaign sought to change negative perceptions of the giant fish and depict it as a daughter of Gujarat which returns home from her sasural in Australia to deliver babies.
To get the message through, Tata Chemicals roped in popular kathakar Murari Bapu. Such is the success of the initiative that fishermen today free the whale sharks that get caught in their nets, with Tata Chemicals stepping in to compensate them for the damage done to their nets by the huge fish.
Tata Chemicals spends Rs 12 crore on CSR annually, and wildlife conservation accounts for 30 per cent of the budget of the Tata Chemicals Society for Rural Development. The spend is distributed over the three places the company has operations — Mithapur in Gujarat, Haldia in West Bengal and Babrala, Uttar Pradesh.
Alka Talwar, who leads Tata Chemicals’ nine member CSR team says: “We’ve been spending more than the 2 per cent of profit the government stipulates. Whether the company has been doing well or going through a slump, we’ve never cut back on the CSR budget.”
In Gujarat, Tata Chemicals has been responsible for sealing up the ancient wells in Gir Forest which were a danger to the Asiatic Lion and it is now working to protect the marine turtle which lands for breeding along the Gujarat coast.
In Haldia, it has a pond management project, where households are aided in cultivating ornamental fish which are in considerable demand. The company teams up with NGOs for these projects, with its own employees often volunteering to join. “That’s an advantage of working close to where our plants are. Our own people can volunteer,” says managing director R Mukundan.
One of Mukundan’s favourite CSR projects is the SNDT Mithapur Centre, a tie-up between Tata Chemicals and SNDT Women’s University. An initiative of Mangubhai Chavda, a Tata Chemicals worker, the Centre today graduates 250 young women a year, in the arts and commerce streams.
Many, Mangubhai proudly says, now earn more than him: “They are in government jobs, some are teachers, some have started their own businesses, like beauty parlors. Seeing the success, now more girls are joining.”
A third generation employee of Tata Chemicals, Satish Trivedi joined the company’s Mithapur plant as a purchase officer. He worked as a volunteer on various projects until the creation of a Community Development Department at Mithapur in 1992 gave him a chance to pursue his passion full time.
“Some of the work we have done, like the satellite tracking of whale sharks to monitor migration habits, is original research. For example, it has now been established that the white sharks are not expats from Australia, as everyone initially thought, but are indigenous to the Indian Ocean,” he says.
The award winning whale shark project is global, but Tata Chemicals is also engaged in micro-projects aimed at improving livelihoods in the areas it operates in. In Okhamandal taluka in Gujarat, in league with the National Institute of Fashion Technology, it has organised womens self-help groups to leverage traditional handicrafts skills for a brand called Okhai.
Over 500 women are currently engaged in making garments under this brand, earning up to Rs 5,000 a month. Another project aimed at providing livelihood opportunities is rural BPOs.
Tata Chemicals has set up two BPO centres in Mithapur and Babrala, employing 200 youngsters who might have otherwise migrated to cities for work. The call centres’ clients include Tata Sky, Passport Seva Kendra and Tata Chemicals itself, which uses them for order booking of soda ash, cement and salt.