INDIA RESPONSIBLE BUSINESS FORUM

OCTOBER 27, 2015

The India Responsible Business Forum was launched on October 27th, 2015 by Oxfam India, Corporate Responsibility Watch, Praxis and Partners in Change. An index analysing policies of the top 100 listed companies in India from the lens of inclusion was launched at IRBF. The Index is an outcome of a collaborative partnership between Corporate Responsibility Watch, Oxfam India, Change Alliance, Praxis Institute for Participatory Practices and Partners In Change. The inaugural conference of the IRBF was attended by as many as 80 representatives from the private sector, civil society and the government of India.

The keynote speaker was Mr. Pooran Chandra Pandey, Executive Director, United Nations Global Compact Network, India. Mr. Kiran Karnik, Chairperson, Oxfam India Board and former President of the National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM) delivered a special address at the event.

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IRBF is a platform to promote adoption of inclusive and responsible business practices by Indian companies. IRBF aims to engage private sector in a dialogue about developing business models and practices that go beyond minimum corporate social responsibility compliance, to help support a balanced and sustainable economy. The India Responsible Business index (IRBI) is a ground-breaking initiative to analyse publicly stated commitment to the NVG framework as well the annual business responsibility reports published by the top 100 companies listed on the Bombay Stock Exchange, as mandated by the Securities and Exchange Board of India.

The Ministry of Corporate Affairs, Government of India has sharpened its focus on encouraging businesses to play a proactive role in ensuring sustainable and inclusive growth. Taking cognizance of the fact that a purely philanthropic approach to business responsibility will be no more than a partial solution, the National Voluntary Guidelines for Social, Environmental and Economic Responsibilities of Business (NVGs) were launched in August 2011. They are designed to assist the corporate sector in efforts towards inclusive development and help it evolve into a global leader in truly responsible business.

In August 2012 the Securities and Exchange Bureau of India (SEBI) made disclosure on the nine principles compulsory for the top-100 companies listed on the stock exchange at the end of the previous financial year. To facilitate reporting, SEBI provided a NVGs-based framework called the Business Responsibility Report for integration into existing annual and other reporting practices. They recognised that “at a time and age when enterprises are increasingly seen as critical components of the social system, they are accountable not merely to their shareholders from a revenue and profitability perspective but also to the larger society which is also its stakeholder.”

Building on these developments, CRW as per its mandate carried out a disclosure analysis of Business Responsibility Reports for the year 2012-13 and subsequently extended it to Principle 3 and 4 for the year 2013-14. Additionally policies related to employees ‘well-being and stakeholder engagement were analysed for top 10 listed companies. Set against this backdrop, in the absence of a formal monitoring system that assessed companies’ compliance with the NVG framework, the India Responsible Business index (IRBI) was developed in order to effectively measure and monitor compliance and to look deeper into specific areas of interest. The main objective of this initiative is to facilitate the transparency of economic activities and accountability of corporates not only to their shareholders but also to wider society. It also aims to create a dialogue between the government, the private sector and civil society on every aspect of business responsibility and the role of the private sector in development.

 

Sustainable Development Goals and the Role of the Private Sector – All In This Together

Nisha Agarwal, Chief Executive Officer, Oxfam India laid the foundation of the day’s discussions by talking about the prevailing global environment of dialogue about sustainability and the role of the private sector in development. A former research economist at the Impact Research Centre, University of Melbourne, Australia, Nisha worked with the World Bank on development issues for 18 years before assuming her role at Oxfam India.

Highlights:

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Encouraging Synergy Between Governments, Businesses and Civil Society

The keynote address was delivered by Mr. Pooran Chandra Pandey, Executive Director, United Nations Global Compact Network. The Global Compact is UN’s interface with businesses, and it is the world’s largest sustainability initiative. Mr. Pandey discussed the role of the private sector in shaping a sustainable business.

Highlights:

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Business Responsibility from the perspective of Corporate Responsibility Watch

Corporate Responsibility Watch, a thought leadership space and think tank on corporate responsibility and responsible business practices in India, is the key knowledge source and partner for the IRBF. Mr. Tom Thomas, the Chief Executive Officer of Praxis and Convenor of Corporate Responsibility Watch, described the perspective of CRW on the subject of business responsibility and discussed the role of the IRBF Index as a watchdog and a tool of engagement with the private sector.

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Understanding the IRBF Index

After the role, the context and the need for the IRBF index were established, its genesis, the methodology used to develop it and its findings were explained by Mr. Namit Agarwal, Private Sector Advisor, Oxfam India and Mr. Dheeraj from raxis, a member of the index’s principal research team.

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Consumers’, Investors’ Awareness Essential to Encourage Responsible Business Action

Mr. Kiran Karnik, chairperson, Oxfam India board, delivered a special address on how the IRBF index can help the private sector identify opportunities to increase its social footprint. Mr. Karnik is the former President of the National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM), a member of the Scientific Advisory Council to the Prime Minister and Central Employment Guarantee Council, as well as the chairman of the International Steering Committee of the Commonwealth Connects Programme.

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Incorporating the Sustainable Development Goals with Indian Business Objectives

Mr. Nick Warelis, project manager, CSR Asia led the audience through a presentation on ways that Indian companies could integrate their processes and objectives with the Sustainable Development Goals. Mr. Warelis represented CSR Asia, a leading provider of consultancy and research services on sustainable business practices.

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Disclosure: The First Step Towards Responsible Business

The inaugural conference concluded with a panel discussion moderated by Ms. Seema Chowdhry, Editor for CSR and Philanthropy at Mint. The panelists were Mr. Ajay Kumar, Affirmative Action Adviser, Tata Sons, Ms. Aditi Haldar, Focal Point India, Global Reporting Initiative and Director, GRI South Asia, Mr. Narayanan Ramaswamy, Partner, KPMG India, and Ms. Yashmi Yadav, Manager, Sustainable Business & Corporate Communications, Hindustan Unilever.

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The Way Forward

The organisations and people behind IRBF and the index are drawing up plans for the future and will share an update soon. Broadly the group stands committed to:

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