Corporate Social Responsibility needs Personal Social Responsibility
Much has been made of CSR and the need for large corporations to treat all their stakeholders responsibly. In India, most large companies have risen to the current challenges, from retaining employees to offering goods to vulnerable populations and working with business associations.
But CSR is much more than that, and requires companies to be engaged in all the big issues of the day, such as global warming, poverty, and leading responsibly in dealing with all stakeholders.
Yet in this time of COVID, the need to open up economies, to prevent climate change disasters, and now to deal with riots in the USA, the scene has changed. The onus is more than ever on the individual and their personal responsibility.
Especially as there is a breakdown in personal responsibility among many heads of government in countries such as the UK, America, Russia, China, Hungary and Brazil – to name just the bigger ones. This breakdown has led to a lack of responsible leadership, including in America calling for control of the extreme left (whoever they may be) and for military intervention against peaceful demonstrations.
Thus personal responsibility is needed to control violence against others; to prevent the spread of the coronavirus through asymptotically infected persons; to demonstrate peacefully in the face of increasing administrative violence of the sort seen in America, Brazil, and Hong Kong; and to respect the natural environment from jettisoned long-lasting rubbish such as plastics.
In India, as many countries elsewhere, there is a reluctance to invoke taking the personal responsibility to wear facemasks so as not to infect people who may pass by you. Even sports people who are fanatic about their fitness may also wear face-masks to protect them, but who protects those without face-masks from each other? In fact the number wearing masks has reduced over time – even as the pandemic has been infecting more and more people. One can see that shocking fact as one witnesses the huge demonstrations against ethnic conflict in London, Washington DC, Paris etc., but not in Hong Kong, South Korea nor Singapore. Consequently infections are still rising rapidly in the former cities while the latter with much more personal responsibility have seen rapid falls.
Many facemask-less are poor people, and the majority are young men who may not have the cash to buy face masks. Yet just about all have a face-mask, but mainly slung around the bottom half of their face. What to do?
In the slums of India the situation is dire, having to cope with COVID in the context of crushing poverty – one more burden to add to the daily grind of trying to survive. Imposing what has been pronounced on people who must live eight and more to a room is not only insensitive but also impractical. Many have large families simply because they look after their neighbour’s children, whose parents may have passed away.
Can a call for personal responsibility change behaviour for such people? Probably not, without a major programme to address the plight of the victims of poverty.
Elsewhere I and others have suggested a basic income for all poor people in India, while others have even argued for a Universal Basic Income (UBI), whereby everyone receives a modest stipend, rich and poor alike. UBI would be hugely expensive right now, but allegedly is easier to manage than Targeted Basic Income (TBI) that this author prefers.
Cash distribution would stimulate demand and multiply activity and employment through communities, especially in the slums. Eventually the only way out of poverty is through giving the poor choices, and by making education the top priority. For it is often the lack of education that leads the poor to make unfortunate choices in their lives. Education and health services must be free for them, but for sure we must also encourage them to adopt higher levels of personal responsibility as the virus attacks their neighbourhoods.