Taking Stock of India’s Mandatory CSR Legislation Four Years Out

In 2013, India adopted a mandatory “comply or explain” corporate social responsibility (CSR) law requiring companies to spend 2% of their net profits on local social causes or explain—in their annual reports and on their websites—why they have failed to do so. With the five-year anniversary of this legislation approaching, the Duke Human Rights Center at the Kenan Institute for Ethics recently held a two-day workshop with the goal of taking stock of the law and its impact, focusing on both the philanthropic and corporate responsibility landscapes.

Practitioners from a wide variety of fields, including academic scholars and business leaders from both the U.S. and India, gathered at KIE on June 4th and 5th, to discuss conceptual, empirical, and policy-related questions related to CSRs. The workshop was funded by the Duke India Initiative.

Suzanne Katzenstein, research scholar and the project director at the Duke Human Rights Center at the Kenan Institute for Ethics, as well as the workshop’s organizer, has long been interested in India’s CSR law. “Considering how unusual and innovative it is, there has been very little interdisciplinary conversation about the law, and even less discussion between academics and practitioners,” she says. “This workshop seemed ideal: bringing people together, who normally don’t have the opportunity to interact, to reflect on and discuss the law.”

A presentation early in the conference by Shankar Venkateswaran, MBA and retired chief of the Tata Sustainability Group, acknowledged that the broader impact of the mandatory law may be that companies think of their role in society differently. “CSR legislation has the potential to rewrite the normative role of business in the community and to transform how corporations think about their role in inclusive development, in line with the National Voluntary Guidelines for Responsible Business,” he said. “At the very least, the legislation has meant that the topic has become a conversation at the board level, elevating its status.”

Other questions and issues discussed during the two days of sessions included:

  • What is the objective of the 2013 CSR and how do we measure its impact? What kind of effect is the law having on poor communities it is intended to help?
  • How should we understand the broader impact of the law beyond potentially affecting corporate culture? How is it changing the character and role of NGOs, as NGOs now aim to receive funds under the law? What does it signify in terms of the retrenchment of the state providing public services or the expansion of the state in channeling corporate philanthropy for certain development projects?
  • How do CSRs differ across different types of companies, such as public and private? How does the law interact with corporate governance structures in India?

The “Four Years Out” workshop was a rare and valuable opportunity to have many interdisciplinary—and international—practitioners gathered together to discuss the progress, problems, and promise of CSR in India. As more and more countries around the world—and especially in Asia—learn about India’s mandatory legislation and become interested in adopting something similar, it will become increasingly important to have a consistent definition of what is meant by a CSR and procedures for how they are implemented.

As more and more countries around the world—and especially in Asia—learn about India’s mandatory CSR legislation and become enthusiastic to adopt something similar, it will become increasingly important to have a consistent definition of what is meant by CSR and how one is implemented.

“It is rare to have so many interdisciplinary practitioners gathered together to talk about the same topic. This is a great opportunity,” says Aaron Chatterji, associate professor at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business. “This is a law that has gotten so much press, that other countries are going to look at this law and say ‘we want this.’ Many people will be looking for the literature on this (type of law), to understand what they should do.”

— Emily Bowles

Do Snack with Mitch Landrieu, March 2

How do we tell our history? Whose voices are heard? What role does politics play? Join New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu for snacks and discussion to get a different and involved perspective!

Mitch Landrieu was sworn in as the 61st Mayor of New Orleans on May 3, 2010, with a clear mandate to turn the city around following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and the BP Oil Spill. On February 1, 2014, Mayor Landrieu was overwhelmingly re-elected to a second term and is continuing to deliver major victories. Prior to serving as Mayor, Landrieu served as Lieutenant Governor of Louisiana for six years and as a State legislator for 16 years where he earned a reputation as a reformer. Throughout his years of public service, Mitch has governed by the philosophy that New Orleans is “one team, one fight, one voice, and one city.”

Mayor Landrieu is the 2018 Kenan Distinguished Lecturer, whose talk, “Making Straight What Has Been Crooked: The Ethics and Politics of Race in America,” will take place at 7pm on March 2, at the Durham Armory.

Do Lunch is a series of informal lunch discussions, exclusively for currently enrolled Duke undergraduate students, featuring ethical leaders outside of Duke and their decision-making processes.

Snacks are available to students who RSVP; space is limited. Sign-up here.

WHAT: Do Snacks with Mitch Landrieu
WHEN: Friday, March 2, from 4pm to 5pm
WHERE: Ahmadieh Family Conference Room, West Duke 101, East Campus
RSVP: Click here to RSVP.

DoLunch with Steve Schewel, March 26

Join Durham Mayor Steve Schewel to talk about how Duke and Durham are intertwined and the role of students as members of the larger Durham community. Have lunch with him to get a different and involved perspective!

In 1983, Steve Schewel founded the Durham-based Independent newspaper. The weekly paper has won some of the most prestigious awards in American journalism, including the George Polk Award for environmental reporting, the Investigative Reporters and Editors national award, the H.L. Mencken Writing Award, and the Thurgood Marshall Award. Schewel published the paper for 30 years before selling it in 2012.

From 2004-2008, Schewel served on the Durham Public Schools’ Board of Education, including two years as vice-chair. He was elected to the Durham City Council in 2011 with special interest in affordable housing, public safety and parks and trails. A former English teacher and community organizer, Schewel serves on a number of boards in the local community. He coached youth soccer in Durham for 18 years.

Steve Schewel graduated magna cum laude from Duke in 1973. He earned a master’s in English from Columbia University in 1974 and a Ph.D. in education from Duke in 1982.

Do Lunch is a series of informal lunch discussions, exclusively for currently enrolled Duke undergraduate students, featuring ethical leaders outside of Duke and their decision-making processes.

Lunches are available to students who RSVP; space is limited. Sign-up here.

WHAT: DoLunch with Steve Schewel
WHEN: Monday, March 26, from 12pm to 1:30pm
WHERE: Ahmadieh Family Conference Room, West Duke 101, East Campus
RSVP: Click here to RSVP.

2018 ‘What is Good Art?’ – Call for Submissions

What is Good Art?The Kenan Institute for Ethics invites students from across Duke to submit artwork to this year’s “What Is Good Art?” exhibition to explore how we should live, the role that art plays in our lives and its impact on how we see the world.

The theme for What Is Good Art? 2017-2018 is Community. As always, the WIGA theme is intentionally broad and open to many interpretations.

All Duke University students are encouraged to submit entries to compete for four prizes, and have their work displayed in a collective exhibition in the Keohane Kenan Gallery of the West Duke Building. A distinguished panel of experts in art and/or ethics convene to select pieces for display. All Duke students are invited to submit works in any medium for the contest and exhibition around the theme of “Community.” Submission deadline is March 9, 2018 at 11:59pm.

What Is Good Art? is sponsored by Team Kenan, the student branch of the Kenan Institute for Ethics. Submission guidelines, information about the prizes, and more can be found on the exhibition website.

Intersectional Feminism

I am an intersectional feminist. I remember quite fondly the first time I used the phrase to describe myself during a conversation with my mom on a car ride home. She looked puzzled and seemed rather taken aback that I found it necessary to qualify my sense of feminism as “intersectional,” but to me, it’s more a necessity than a mere difference of semantics. Intersectionality is the concept that oppressive institutions, like racism, sexism, or homophobia, are all interconnected, tangled together and impossible to analyze separately.    

The past few weeks in America have been filled with more sadness, more killing of black men, and more pleading for the senseless violence to end.  As an African American woman trying to make sense of the heartache and the many more tears that have been shed for those we have lost, I think back to the black community I am apart of.

Racial identities aren’t chosen, and perhaps that is what makes the bond so unique. Darkened melanin creates a sense of understanding, a shared past, and at least a cursory understanding of what someone else may have experienced. But even within a marginalized community, I am frequently reminded of what it means to be a woman, a black woman.

Distinctly the two communities I most greatly identify with are my race and my gender, but I think the combination, or rather the intersection of the two, is where I constantly find myself belonging. From these communities I gain a sense of strength and understanding of how others’ experiences can be just like mine even when it feels as if I walk alone. Therefore, there is a greater sense of responsibility, an unwritten oath members of the community should take of mentorship and helping one another.

Such a philosophy seems idealistic at best- creating a perfect world where everyone lifts up each other with no consideration of themselves- but at times it’s the small things that contribute to an understanding of the shared community. Admiring in awe when I finally see an African American female in a position of authority at this institution or ensuring that I acknowledge the many black staff workers on campus with a smile, a quick conversation, and thanking them graciously for their work.

There has not been a time that I find my membership in this intersectional community a burden, but there have been times where I find myself more tired that I would care to admit: the micro-aggression from a classmate, looking around the classroom and seeing that yet again you are the only woman of color, feeling like a show animal when someone wants to touch your twists and then quickly being reminded of the angry black woman stereotype as you firmly remind them to take their hands off of you, or having to gauge how loud you can be in an impassioned class debate. Being black, being a black woman, is not problematic, rather it is how others treat this community that remains problematic.

I say again: I am an intersectional feminist, meaning that I understand the strife that comes with being a member of a marginalized race and gender, but I also firmly believe that my membership within such a community grants me a beautiful and unique perspective on life.

Shame Spiral

I think sometimes about how the same eagerness with which we share “interesting” articles on the web also leads us to shame, destruct, and otherwise terrorize fellow humans on the internet. There is this shame spiral, and on one end is our pleasure in connectivity, in reading a think-piece that gels with our worldview, and on the other are our impulses (fully realized) toward alienation, i.e., look at what this horrible person has posted or tweeted and, come on, gang, let’s destroy him/her. I’m not a neuroscientist, but I wonder about what can be said, chemically speaking, of the uneven space between our uniting to uplift and our uniting to disparage and condemn. The pleasure spiral toes both lines.

In the spirit of “sharing” online, I wanted to highlight a recent article, “How One Stupid Tweet Blew Up Justine Sacco’s Life” (I kind of love the headline, as it seems to riff on the cringeworthy clickbait parlayed so often nowadays). It’s an excerpt from a forthcoming book by author Jon Ronson called, fittingly, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed. In the essay, Ronson details the now-famous online shaming of former corporate communications maven Justine Sacco. On her way to visit family in South Africa, Sacco fired off a series of seemingly innocuous tweets, and then a not-so-innocuous one that sealed her internet fate as she flew, unknowing, across the continents. Ronson relays the series of events that mobilized the tweeting public into a sham[ing] spiral, as hashtags like “#HasJustineLandedYet” reveled in anticipatory destructive glee. And it was destructive: it seemed the entire world, or at least the contingent of active tweeters, rallied against her; news outlets proclaimed their disgust; Sacco was ultimately fired from her high-profile job. And then Ronson, as part of a larger-scale project in which he interviewed other victims of online shaming, eventually met Sacco and talked to her over the course of several months. He differentiates her earlier responses (defensive, corrective, apologetic, shocked) from later ones, when she refuses to disclose information about her current situation. In a conscientious move, she denies her casting as victim: “Anything that puts the spotlight on me is a negative,” she says. 

Embedded in this story is the common knowledge that it’s easier to position someone or something as the enemy and then bludgeon him/her/it repeatedly, either in tweets or think-pieces, when you haven’t met him or her in person, or engaged on a personal level. Ronson affirms this; he writes that he made an effort to interview the shaming victims included in his book project in-person, whenever possible. These are the conversations, presumably, where nuance becomes possible. In a lot of ways, despite Twitter’s democratic reach, I think the medium is best at mass-mobilization—which, even if geared toward stretching visibility around a certain topic, cause, or campaign, can also shut out space for ambivalence. I can think of several times I took to Twitter or Facebook, dissatisfied with what I perceived to be an over-simplified channeling of an issue or viewpoint; I’d type, sometimes hit “send,” and then sit in full-body-pulsing fear of not saying it exactly right, not issuing enough eloquence in my challenge so as to make a mark. Because despite its 140-character limit, Twitter is hardly a flippant medium. As Ronson’s piece illustrates, the stakes feel higher and higher on both sides of that spiral: to pioneer a ‘new’ viewpoint around which the masses can congregate (religious imagery not intended here), either for ‘better’ or for ‘worse,’ becomes the objective. The ethics here get murkier and murkier: how do we speak out at all, and to what end? Who do we consider, and not consider, either in our line of fire or in our line of solidarity? Ronson’s piece doesn’t offer answers, necessarily, but it does speak out, in a way; it outlines these dilemmas and some of their consequences.