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CSR: Commitment Or Ritual

Published on 24th Feb, Edition 8, 2014

 

The word CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) seems to have become a talking point in Pakistan’s corporate sector. The members of Board of Directors and senior management often include many items in CSR, which hardly have any relevance with the community they work with of the people employed in the entities. While huge sums are being allocated and spent under CSR, the trickledown effect is often not visible.

In this part of the world sponsors and regulators seem more concerned about the shareholders than the employees or the communities they work with. They often talk about stakeholders, which include on top of the list sponsors, shareholders, financial institutions and raw material suppliers. Though, the government often claims to be a key stakeholder but the sole objective remains maximizing tax collection. Employees, particularly the blue collar workers come very low on the list. And the concepts of giving any regard to the community from which the workers come are often not considered worth talking.

Often the benefits offered to the employees are classified as CSR. One such example is serving food and tea to employees at subsidized rates. There is vast difference in quality of food being served to workers and senior/middle management. Therefore, the amount being spent on management is far higher than the amount being spent on workers. Same is the case when it comes to medical facilities. Senior management is entitled to avail services of the most expensive hospitals but workers have to go to hospitals/dispensaries operating in the public sector, often devoid of decent facilities.

In some of the industries i.e. sugar and fertilizer residential colonies have been constructed, which are often reasonably but there is also class difference. Workers are not allowed to enter those facilities reserved for middle and higher management. However, basic facilities offered to workers are reasonably good i.e. quality of houses, supply of utilities. It may not be wrong to say that the workers colonies still seem to be suffering from the legacy of colonial era because at times class difference is very visible.

Some of the critics say that initially CSR initiative was taken by conglomerates and multinational companies in Pakistan. This was more in line with the laws of the countries of origin. However, even a small percentage of net profits were big amounts. These entities primarily focus of environment protection, health and education. Most visible were the spending on plantation of tree and effluent treatment because power plants, fertilizer factories, chemical plants and tanneries were emitting a lot of toxic gases and effluent. Spending of education was also reasonably good.

Another initiative worth talking is arrangement of walks, seminars and conferences of various occasions i.e. Earth Day, Environment Day, Diabetes Day, Child and Mother Day, Women Empowerment etc. Some of these days are celebrated with big fanfare, photo sessions are elaborate, newspapers print supplements and television channels run special programs. Many of the events are held in five-star hotels and there are long speeches in an alien language but those needs to be informed are conspicuous by their absence.

It is also a point of concern that after the promulgation of laws in the West, sponsors of these countries are establishing their manufacturing units in the third world because the laws are not stringent and often evading these is also easy. One such example is tanneries as buyers from developed countries place bid orders in countries located in Asia and Africa. Since these countries need foreign exchange they hardly bother about environment degradation and spread of toxic effluents causing permanent injuries and through drinking contaminated water among the residents of the areas. Tanneries are causing worst pollution in Korangi Industrial area in Karachi. Kasur located in Punjab is also the worst victim but the provincial governments are hardly taking steps to save the people and the environment.

Another most blatant disregard to environment and people is turning of world famous fresh water Manchar into a pit of highly toxic water. Not only a source of fresh water has been destroyed but people living in famous boat houses have been deprived of source of income, their major source of income used to be fish present in this fresh water lake. After having ruined this lake the next target is Kinjhar Lake a source of fresh water for 20 million people of Karachi.

Marine life and coastal line of Karachi has also been destroyed because of dumping of untreated sewerage water and industrial effluent. On top of all, Karachi is also the victim of worst air pollution because of emission of toxic fumes by highly depleted public transport. For years gasoline containing lead and burning of furnace oil containing high percentage of sulphur has been degrading the environment. In the past, plantation was undertaken on road sides but lately most of these have been cut to ensure visibility of bill board. Often electric utility also cuts tree to protect overhead lines.

Construction of multi-storey buildings has turned the city into concrete jungle. Two other gifts are overflowing sewerage water and heaps of garbage, almost throughout the city. Dumps near schools and hospitals show that those at the helm of affairs suffer from worst apathy. Some cynics say that in a country spending less than 5% of annual budget on education and health care, whatever private sector spending under CSR is a blessing else the haves not would have been spending even worse life.

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