Mohiuddin Babar : The concept and practice of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) became a vibrant buzzword in the society across the world during the last two decades. With the unprecedented development in the flow of information and a simultaneous rise in the exposure of grievances by workers and communities, need for transparency, ethics and legal adherence became dominant in the domain of business. Alongside this, concerns for nature and environmental sustainability also propelled the quest for redefining our work and consumption behaviour. Thus, concepts like CSR, Social Accountability, and Sustainable Development etc gained stream over the years.
Though voluntary in nature, CSR assumed special attention in the boardrooms of big corporate organizations as it became a popular tool to display the concerns and commitment of the companies for the well being of the employees, supply chain and surrounding communities. The problem, however, was that CSR carried the underlying tone of philanthropy and that it at times turned out to be a convenient channel for marketing.
In Bangladesh, the concept and practice of CSR started gaining importance during the last decade, particularly aftermath incidents of community reactions towards some industrial fallouts, employee unrest and increased enthusiasm of environmentalists. However, a couple of sad incidents like fire in Tazreen ready-made garment factory and the collapse of the Rana Plaza killing thousands of workers brought CSR into the greater limelight. Occupational Health and safety turned out to be of prime importance as a social responsibility of the owners and investors. At the same time, improving the working conditions of the workers also gained strength.
CSR seems to be quite beneficial for the sprawling readymade factories in Bangladesh besides being equally helpful for all type of industries. In fact, when the RMG sector started booming up in the eighties and nineties, there wasn’t much concern for the social responsibility. The underlying truth of the boom was the easy availability of workforce, particularly womenfolk, at a reasonably low labour cost. This mainly enabled the investors to have a very competitive and attractive productivity cost. On the other count, there was no effective regulatory body to oversee the quality of infrastructure development. As such, we have seen series of industrial mishaps, mainly fire incidents that sensitized the need for some corrective and sustainable measures. CSR looked like a great and timely saviour.
Indeed, there has been a great shift in the mindset of several owners and investors with regard to their responsibility towards employees, their kith and kin and largely the communities around them. Instead of draining out the polluted water, many RMG factories set up Effluent Treatment Plants(ETP); many have remodelled the electricity distribution system within the factory; many have ensured better ventilation services and so forth. Added to those, many have set up day care centres within the premises to enable the working mothers pass worry-free work schedule; many have arranged insurance for the workers and so forth. All these accounts for a better working environment which obviously satisfies the labour rights and other preconditions.
Many would say that the factory owners and management were compelled to bring the changes following prescriptions from the buyers and continuous urging by the media, human rights groups etc. Nevertheless, one can see a straw in the wind. Some examples of good corporate citizenship would strengthen the general mindset of all entrepreneurs who would not only engage in meeting the compliance requirements but do something beyond to make the employees, communities and all stakeholders happy. This would also enable them to have a finer edge in competition.