One of the most renowned companies also adhering to India’s mandatory Corporate Social Responsibilities law is ITC, yet again, a company with a wide range of businesses reaching heights in every field imaginable, such as packaging and branding, hospitality sector, the agri-business, etc. According to Section 135, Companies Act, 2013, companies reaching a certain threshold and profit margin are legally required to invest a minimum of 2% of their profits in activities concerning Corporate Social Responsibilities. Therefore, as ITC falls under the same category, it partakes with several other organizations to fulfill the needs of society. Just like its competitors, ITC had also begun its welfare activities a long time before it was mandated by the law. Certain issues were harmoniously mixed with their innovative business ideas which had a two-fold objective: helping them to run their business and help the society through the same. Some of their initiatives were the Badrachalam Project, Nepal Adivasis, etc. ITC has been famously known for its consistent practice of being Transparent and Ethical. It mirrors the same characteristics for their social welfare programs. This article will reflect on several initiatives taken by ITC towards meeting social responsibilities in India and how well have they been implemented.
Meeting sustainable development goals
ITC understands the importance and success of India’s economic and global development which, unfortunately, came at the cost of highly detrimental problems to the society, both in terms of people and the physical conditions of the planet. The consistent scant attention paid to the condition of the planet earth and the income distributions amongst people have given India problems bigger than what she can face herself. While countries have become significantly tied to each other post Globalization, most of them suffer from the same tangled societal issues as India does.
After conducting several studies, the United Nations finally came up with Corporate Sustainability, which essentially speaks about the 10 principles of Sustainable Growth, guiding such organizations through their journey of societal welfare by targeting top-priority problems. Members of the society who are fully resourced to solve these problems need to come to the center of the stage and perform their acts before it’s too late. Luckily, for India, the big-shot companies are willing to do so. Companies are made to target issues that the entire world faces, only with varying levels of intensity. All these issues, such as lack of education, lack of jobs, inadequate health care, poor environmental conditions, etc. are interlinked with each other and have to be fought up from the roots. While a country cannot entirely depend on its highly successful companies to make a difference, a little help from them can only do good for society.
ITC and its corporate social responsibilities
ITC has always functioned with the notion of “Nation First” in all its Sustainable growth and CSR operations. All its programs and policies follow the UN 10 Principles and Section 135 of Companies Act read with 2014 rules and the VII Schedule of the Act. The company collectively invested about Rs 291 crores in CSR in 2018 and Rs 307 crores in 2019. Additionally, ITC is also known for its Triple Bottom Line business strategy which judges the success rates of companies on the 3Ps – Profits, People, and Planet. Such a strategy makes it inevitable for the organization to focus equally on all three aspects of a business thereby ensuring that businesses don’t get greedy and focus on the issues of society too. Their sustainability and social operations are aligned with a few key goals, viz.:
- Create sustainable livelihoods and alleviate poverty through promotion of, inter alia, afforestation, water stewardship, sustainable agriculture and climate-smart practices, livestock development, and women empowerment;
- Build capabilities for tomorrow through interventions in, inter alia, education, vocational training, sanitation, school WASH (Water, Sanitation & Hygiene), safe drinking water, and solid waste management;
- Promote healthcare, including preventive healthcare, and improve critical nutritional & health status of the at-risk population through interventions to strengthen mother & child health, nutritional content, delivery, outreach, and outcomes;
- Protect national heritage, art & culture, and preserving & promoting music and sports; and
- Provide relief and assistance to victims of disasters and calamities.
What are the initiatives taken by the company?
As ITC follows the triple bottom line strategy, it is bound to invest significantly in Long-Term Social Investment Programmes rather than short-term policies. It is because of the strategies that they mostly tend to fund projects financially and more often than not, partner with either the Government or Non-Profit organizations. Following is some of their renowned initiatives:
E-Choupal is an internet-based platform, mostly internet kiosks, that was set up by the ITC in an attempt to help the farmers of the country, in June 2000. Agriculture is the backbone of Indian income, however, not even 10% of its land is arable. The farmers also stand at a disadvantageous position as most are not aware of the risk liability, choice of crop, choice of agricultural method, pesticides, etc. This initiative by the ITC allows farmers from rural areas to understand the specific requirements that their crops need and work accordingly. How does E-Choupal work?
With the help of a Sanchalak (leader), farmers can find out information on rain predictions, fertilizers, pesticides, new advanced methods of cultivation, and others from the internet. While agriculture is so widely practiced, it is unfortunate that many farmers fall victim to bad crops because they are not aware of what all goes into cultivation and the latest methods that can be learned. A plethora of information is provided on the e-choupal website and hence ensures farmers stay aware of all thing’s agriculture with the help of this information on their specially curated website.
As most of the rural population is not technology-friendly, one Sanchalak is chosen, who is educated and trained in the same way to help the other farmers. The unique design of the model also helps overcome one of the major obstacles that farmers face in getting a good profit from their yield which is having several Intermediaries in between. The reason why farmers don’t excel according to their potential is that, to date, intermediaries either deprive or steal vital and critical information from the farmers which puts them at a disadvantage because they have to dance to the intermediary’s tunes now. This steals away their yield and their profit margins, both of which, are extremely crucial to the farmers.
E-Choupal is a transparent, customer-centric entrepreneurial model that allows informationally deprived farmers access to the A-Z of farming ranging from weather conditions to equipment, alternative farming methods to the price of crops, etc. The model primarily focuses on building and collecting a globe of information on farming and provides it to the farmers for their advantage. As this is a customer-centric model, the website has been made easy to access and farmers can choose to operate it in their mother tongue. If such an option isn’t available to them, Sanchalaks take the responsibility of translating the same content as on the website.
Amidst the entire functioning, ITC held credit for being the platform creator, rule maker, and modifier. Its Research & Development, Engineering, and Logistics helped build the first online trade business model for Indian farmers. Looking at the huge success rates in farmer’s lives, e-Choupals had eventually expanded to regular social use and architectural use as well.
Studies have shown several benefits farmers were able to avail due to this initiative-
- Farmers have had more control over their choices
- They have earned higher profits.
- Their resources are not burning out due to wrong cultivation because e-choupal has made them knowledgeable on the same.
- The farmers are globally linked.
- The most important advantage is that the farmers are aware of the price of their crops in the market.
- E-choupal has reached around 4 million farmers today who have been growing various crops like coffee, soya bean, pulses, rice etc.
- E-choupal has reached 35,000 villages and 10 states.
- About 6,100 kiosks have been set up all around the country which is easily accessible to all farmers.
- Solid Waste Management
ITC has devised one of the most efficient solid waste management systems named Well-being Out of Waste (WOW) which educates and promotes awareness on waste segregation and recycling. It also introduces and establishes systems that maintain the same functions. ITC works with the local municipalities to educate the rag pickers and waste collectors regarding waste segregation as the procedure helps greatly in reducing the dump in landfills. The collaboration with local municipalities ensures that all houses, schools, hospitals, offices, etc. are covered and all waste generated at such places is segregated either by the rag pickers or the people generating such waste themselves.
Additionally, the initiative also focuses on High Impact Public campaigns, Educating students, and Training rag pickers and civic servants. Public skits, plays, hoardings etc. have become a vital tool in educating the public at large. As these skits or plays also have a tinge of entertainment, people have become more receptive to these ways of education rather than simply being fed all the information. Similarly, schools have also started including waste management lessons, quizzes, etc. in their curriculum to ensure such information is instilled in children from a young age. This has also turned out to be fruitful as the significant amount of the population in India is the youth and targeting them to instill such habits would only prove to be for the benefit of the country.
The planning for such waste management has to tick all boxes when it comes to logistics and implementation. A plethora of intrinsic details goes into the execution of such an initiative. One of the most important ways of following waste segregation is to have color-coded dustbins to segregate the different kinds of waste. Wastes are mostly segregated into wet waste and dry waste, vegetable peels separately and recyclables separate. Most societies have begun educating their households to segregate these wastes themselves, which is the first level of segregation. However, after this, the waste goes through several rounds of segregation ensuring that the right waste is managed properly.
A similar solid waste management project was held in Saharanpur, Uttar Pradesh, to study the various challenges that may arise in working towards this method of waste management. The studies depict the positive outcome of the initiative and the change in people’s mindset about an issue as crucial as this.
- Parivesh Bandhus – It is a group of 142 women from Self Help Groups belonging to Tribeni, West Bengal who have been supported by ITC and partner organization, Pitar and the District Panchayats to keep the town’s drains and roads clean and run a solid waste management operation. These women work in four-person teams- a road sweeper, a drain cleaner, and two household waste collectors serving 10,000 households every day.
This initiative focuses on segregating biodegradable waste into green bins and recyclable wastes into red bins. Post this segregation, the biowaste is turned into a bio-compost. This service is availed at the cost of merely Rs 20/per household. Thorough checking of the collected waste is done to be transported to the main center by the men of the same Self Help Groups, where the waste is either sold or treated with micro-bacterial chemicals to transform into compost. It also helps people earn their living as each person is paid Rs 12000 per month as their honorarium and has insurance covers for health and life.
To ensure that these workers remain healthy, they have also been given necessary tetanus shots and continue to receive them regularly so their health is maintained. As a result, this project has impacted over 1,36,000 households, in 12 districts over 6 states. Around 2.5 tonnes of biowaste are treated every day. All this compost is then made into a farming compost mixture which is in high demand from the local and countrywide nurseries. This compost mixture is sold with the name of Prakriti Bandhu, which in turn, helps farmers and home science experts grow healthy plants in the correct soil compositions.
- Bala Swacchagrahis – This is an initiative that aims at educating young students about solid waste management, hence the name. This initiative was taken up primarily in Hyderabad and has now reached about 2000 schools in the city. The initiative has included solid waste management in the curriculum and various activities revolving around the same have also been included. More than 1,00,000 students have been educated and also trained to educate furthermore people in their societies, households, or other schools.
- Health and Sanitation
Two primary areas of focus for ITC under sanitation were Open Defecation and inaccessibility of clean drinking water. Open defecation has been on India’s list of problems since times immemorial. Lack of adequate toilet facilities has forced Indians to take such steps. Unfortunately, it has become so common in India that people don’t tend to fathom the importance of its alternative i.e., the facility of a toilet. Several problems associated to open defecation which is why building toilets had become and in fact, still are the need of the hour.
Similarly, very few sections of the country receive clean drinking water regularly. Most villages and towns in the corners of the country have never seen clean drinking water. The lack of it also attracts several health issues endangering people’s lives. To tackle both these issues, ITC decided to take a step and build infrastructure. Sanitation and health go hand in hand. Therefore, people had to be educated about their health too. The famous Swasth India Mission by the ITC helped in educating women, mothers, children about their health and physical needs. They were also given regular consultations.
- ITC was able to build about 4,443 Individual Household Toilets in 26 districts. To date, a total of 35,916 such toilets have been constructed.
- ITC was also able to set up Reverse Osmosis plants in villages and districts of Andhra Pradesh. Furthermore, 26 new RO plants were installed in the past year, taking the total up to 127. Over 150,000 rural people have access to potable drinking water through this health and sanitation initiative.
- ITC was able to reach out to 3.22 lakh women, adolescent girls, and school kids in seven districts of UP and 4 districts of MP. They were educated on sanitation, menstrual hygiene, family planning, and how to prevent diarrhea.
- Nearly 19.2 lakh children from 5,247 schools in 12 states were covered in the Swasth India Mission. Additionally, access to handwashing was enabled through the unique ‘ID Guard’ initiative to all the students covered in these 5,247 schools.
One of the most unique characteristics of ITC is the Triple Bottom Line strategy it applies to its business. It helps businesses take a firm responsibility towards the people and planet too. While this allows ITC to invest in long-term social investments, which are more beneficial to the country, such projects tend to aid a smaller group of people in society. Most of ITC’s projects help the environment significantly but the number of people who are being directly helped through ITC’s CSR policies shows fewer figures. Additionally, it also appears as if most of the CSR fund is utilized and focused on basic procedures and equipment to achieve their missions. A rather equal distribution of such funds in activities that touch most societal issues would be furthermore appreciated.
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