|Thursday, 03 March 2011 00:00|
Given the current preoccupation with scams, Reliance Industries chief Mukesh Ambani’s point, at Ficci’s AGM, that issues like governance, transparency and compliance don’t apply just to government but are equally applicable to business, is very timely. For every bribe-taker, it is obvious, there is a bribe-giver. If the government has to hang its head in shame over the large number of scams that have broken out, corporate India is in worse odour. The fact that various bluechip businesses are being investigated in the Raja scam can’t be good news for India Inc. Businesses, as
Ambani says, have to be measured on not just financial returns, but on social returns as well—the primary responsibility of business, India’s richest man said, “is the betterment of society—always!”. Which means the onus of protecting the environment cannot just be the government’s responsibility. Indian industry polluting the environment or displacing thousands of persons without providing them acceptable housing and livelihoods cannot be accepted—it is the government’s job to prevent this, but the onus is also on industry. Indeed, as India looks to attract ethical investors or hopes to grow to $30 trillion by 2050 (the US is currently a $14 trillion economy), it cannot have the same lack of standards it has today. And the point is simple: if India Inc doesn’t police itself, someone else will.
Ambani’s speech, it is true, had many more layers. Inclusion is certainly also the responsibility of Indian business, if only to create more customers for its products, but inclusion cannot be defined in the narrow sense the government does, of getting industry to commit 2% of its profits for CSR or to reserve jobs for the deprived. Inclusion, as Ambani defined it, is about the government allowing industry to participate in agriculture, in health services, in education … in the act of building India. The fact that so many PPP initiatives with precisely this in mind have run aground with private promoters
trying to change their terms surely does little to inspire confidence. Ambani spoke of the need for disruptive policies as in 1991, which changed the way Indian business looked at itself and the world, but he also spoke of the need to move beyond just corporate social responsibility to a more intensive continuous social business model.