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Social Accountability International (SAI) is a non-profit, multi-stakeholder organization established to advance the human rights of workers by promoting decent work conditions, labor rights, and corporate social responsibility through voluntary standards and capacity building.
Evolving 'CSR': Co-Creating Human Value
Jane Hwang: The SAI-Tata Social Accountability Leadership Program placed a lot of emphasis on leadership. Can you tell us a little more about your approach?
Anant Nadkarni: I like the way that SAI is trying to move companies beyond the language of compliance, to one of mutual responsibility and cooperation at all levels of the supply chain. In India, the CSR/Sustainability field is evolving. It's no longer just about compliance - companies being monitored and employees having to claim rights. We want to evolve to the idea of human value. But value is an opinion, and in this case between managers and workers, value needs to be co-created. This is why I wanted the program to be more than just a technical training. We need more leadership. My senior colleague Kishor Chaukar (SAI Advisory Board member) often says "Leadership is about convincing oneself and others to work with the people, not for or at them". We wanted to challenge our program participants to think about what kind of leader they will be.
JH: For over a century, the Tata group has often quoted its founder Mr. Jamsetji N. Tata: "In a free enterprise, the community is not just another stakeholder in business but is in fact the very purpose of its existence." How does this apply to Tata today and your role in TCCI?
AN: We believe that every company has a responsibility to its employees and the community. We define this in broad terms - what can we do to really transform and tackle some of the most complex challenges that we face as a society. Eradicating poverty should be a fundamental matter of justice and a concern for all of us in India. Michael Edwards in his book 'Small Change' argues about approaches to poverty through human transformation vs. merely fulfilling resource gaps. At Tata we try to go beyond fulfilling resource gaps, towards really intertwining corporate goals and human aspirations.
JH: You spoke during the program about the Tata culture and the Hindu concepts of Niti and Niyaat. Can you explain this concept for non-Indians?
AN: Niti refers to encoded rules, norms, instructions and so on. Niyaat is more about unwritten ways of behavior or culture. At Tata, we could perhaps say that the Tata-way is our Niti. It's a legacy of changing comfort-zones, challenging the unchallenged and going beyond the mundane and other false absolutes or assumptions. Are we really happy with ourselves? Similarly, Tata-ness could be equivalent to Niyaat. After all life cannot be cataloged but good things in life can be learned through emulation of a good example of leadership. It's always a challenge on how to perpetuate our 'Niti-based-on-Niyaat' tradition.
JH: You said that Jamsetji Tata first spoke of "stakeholder" in the late 1800's. How is the concept of stakeholder engagement relevant to Tata and other Indian companies today?
AN: Co-creating sustainable value is more about long-term ownership by all stakeholders of their respective spaces in the value chain. That is also one way to look at trusteeship. At Tata, we have always been strong on community-level engagement. Similarly our current focus is to constantly build a two-way approach that bridges risks, opportunities and innovations for our entire businesses: not only our employees but our suppliers, contractors, dealers, sub-contractors, sub-sub-contractors, bankers, and so on. We need to think about how to go beyond mere transactional and economic advantages and build sustainable engagement based on long-term relationships.
JH: Some of the program participants were from SA8000 certified companies - such as Tata Motors, Tata Steel. In the Tata group overall, twelve facilities have achieved SA8000 certification. Can you tell us about the impetus for this, and what have been some of the benefits and challenges?
AN: For sustainable change to take a complete shape, our economic reforms have to be balanced with social reforms, of which reforms for labor, workers, contractually employed persons are critical. Tata has always pioneered on how companies care for employees and to a significant extent across the value chains. In fact several of our employee related practices initiated by Tata companies much before Indian independence have become labor law in subsequent years. In India we were among the first businesses to certify a facility under SA8000 and the impact of our companies certified is significant in terms of locations and the number of employees covered. The SAI-TATA Leadership program was mostly attended by representatives of our companies that have yet to undergo SA8000 certification, which shows our continued commitment to invest in our people to build these processes within and outside our companies in the future.
JH: How do you think that the Social Fingerprint® approach can help to expand Tata's CSR legacy?
AN: Many of the program participants felt that SA8000 was a useful part of Tata's engagement within its own companies. However, they agreed that we need to uniformly be systematic when we look beyond just our employees. Social Fingerprint seems useful to help us to build capacity down our supply chain. We like that Social Fingerprint is grounded in management systems especially the focus on team-building and leadership involving both managers and workers.