An inclusive India Inc

| Updated on January 13, 2018 Published on February 20, 2017

Corporates have stepped up affirmative action practices, but more can be done

India Inc, or at any rate the BSE 100 companies, are beginning to take a serious view of promoting diversity in the workplace. According to a study and ranking of 100 BSE companies this year by the India Responsible Business Forum, “62 companies are talking about caste in their recruitment”, though only three of them provided detailed numbers on their affirmative action interventions. This marks a distinct improvement over the state of affairs a decade ago, going by a CII report released some years back which observed: “Till early 2007, private sector Indian industry was caste blind, unlike the public sector which had job reservations for SC/ST youth. ” At that time Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had urged the CII in 2006 to pro-actively adopt an affirmative agenda to obviate the need for legislation. Four years before that, President KR Narayanan, in his 2002 Republic Day address, had exhorted industry “to initiate something like the diversity bill and the affirmative action that a capitalist country like the US has adopted and is implementing”. The present study, Making Growth Inclusive, conducted by Oxfam, Praxis, Corporate Responsibility Watch and Partner in Change, confines itself to company policy positions and the systems to back them on issues such as gender, disability and caste representation; community development; employee rights and dignity; and inclusiveness in the supply chain.

It is significant that progress on gender diversity and community development exceeds that in other areas, perhaps because of supportive legislation in the Companies Act 2013 in both respects. With respect to workers’ conditions, the study suggests a mixed outcome: while only six out of these top 100 companies have systems to assess labour issues, against nine last year (the basket of companies being different), 59 of them (against 41 last year) recognised the need to engage with unions. Further progress in this area will enhance stability and productivity. Positive discrimination on the basis of gender, caste and disability works better for initial recruitment than career advancement.

It is now recognised that companies with a diverse workforce are likely to be endowed with superior market intelligence. The report says that while 56 companies provide for systems to ensure equal opportunity in recruitment, only 25 of them have the same in place to ensure diversity in the board. Caste ‘blindness’ has not disappeared altogether. To move ahead on ‘affirmative action’ — as against quotas — it is also necessary to have institutions in place. Apart from internal committees to monitor discrimination, companies could conduct credible social audits. Equal opportunity commissions, as in the US, the UK, and elsewhere, could act as a check on discrimination in recruitment. In a context where public sector employment is rapidly shrinking, corporate India must take a long-term view if it is serious about leveraging India’s skill potential and large market. It is in India Inc’s interest to self-regulate in keeping with global best practices to keep inimical political and bureaucratic interests at bay.

Published on February 20, 2017
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor