How has CSR evolved in India?

India has the world’s richest tradition of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).

The term CSR may be relatively new to India, but the concept dates back to Mauryan history, where philosophers like Kautilya emphasized on ethical practices and principles while conducting business. CSR has been informally practiced in ancient times in form of charity to the poor and disadvantaged. Indian scriptures have at several places mentioned the importance of sharing one’s earning with the deprived section of society. We have a deep rooted culture of sharing and caring.

Religion also played a major role in promoting the concept of CSR. Islam had a law called Zakaat, which rules that a portion of one’s earning must be shared with the poor in form of donations. Merchants belonging to Hindu religion gave alms, constructed temples and night shelters for the poorer class. Hindus followed Dharmada where the manufacturer or seller charged a specific amount from the purchaser, which was used for charity. The amount was known as charity amount or Dharmada. In the same fashion, Sikhs followed Daashaant.

Here, we can understand that the history of CSR in India runs parallel to the historical development of India. CSR has evolved in phases like community engagement, socially responsible production, and socially responsible employee relations. Therefore, the history of Corporate Social responsibility in India can be broadly divided into four phases:

The first phase of CSR was driven by noble deeds of philanthropists and charity. It was influenced by family values, traditions, culture and religion along with industrialization. Till 1850, the wealthy businessmen shared their riches with the society by either setting up temples or religious institutions. In times of famines, they opened their granaries for the poor and hungry. The approach towards CSR changed with the arrival of colonial rule in 1850. In the Pre-independence era, the pioneers or propagators of industrialization also supported the concept of CSR. In 1900s, the industrialist families like Tatas, Birlas, Modis, Godrej, Bajajs and Singhanias promoted this concept by setting up charitable foundations, educational and healthcare institutions, and trusts for community development. It may also be interesting to note that their efforts for social benefit were also driven by political motives.

The second phase was the period of independence struggle when the industrialists were pressurized to show their dedication towards the benefit of the society.

Mahatma Gandhi urged to the powerful industrialists to share their wealth for the benefit of underprivileged section of the society. He gave the concept of trusteeship. This concept of trusteeship helped in the socio-economic growth of India.

Gandhi regarded the Indian companies and industries as “Temples of Modern India”. He influenced the industrialists and business houses to build trusts for colleges, research and training institutes.

These trusts also worked to enhance social reforms like rural development, women empowerment and education.

In the third phase from 1960-1980, CSR was influenced by the emergence of Public sector undertakings to ensure proper distribution of wealth. The policy of industrial licensing, high taxes and restrictions on the private sector resulted in corporate malpractices. This led to enactment of legislation regarding corporate governance, labor and environmental issues. Still the PSUs were not very successful. Therefore, there was a natural shift of expectation from the public to the private sector and their active involvement in the socio-economic growth. In 1965, the academicians, politicians and businessmen set up a national workshop on CSR, where great stress was laid on social accountability and transparency.

In the fourth phase from 1980 onwards, Indian companies integrated CSR into a sustainable business strategy. With globalization and economic liberalization in 1990s, and partial withdrawal of controls and licensing systems there was a boom in the economic growth of the country. This led to the increased momentum in industrial growth, making it possible for the companies to contribute more towards social responsibility. What started as charity is now understood and accepted as responsibility.

In the current scenario in India, the new companies act amended in December 2012 mandates the corporate to spend 2% of their average net profits of the last three financial years towards CSR. This is applicable for companies with a turnover of 1000 Cr/ PAT of 5 Cr/ or net worth of 500 cr. The new bill replaces the Companies act 1956 and emphasizes carrying forward the agenda of Corporate Social Responsibility.