One of the many (mild) perils of reporting on CSR and the not-for-profit sector is the tough task of getting these organisations, for profit or not, to answer your mildly tough questions. Over the years, this writer has noticed a discernible pattern in their responses to CB’s queries: tepid to enthusiastic when it comes to PR stories which they usually like to advertise and promote, and stony silence to lame excuses when it comes to a CB story.
This could be attributed to a few factors: one, our questions are fair, incisive and meaningful. Two, CB’s idea is to keep the stories objective and steer clear of a PR exercise to curry favours, and three, many companies’ CSR work is an afterthought, a fig leaf for half-baked programmes and shoddy implementation and so, obviously, there are no good answers to reasonable questions. In CSR, as with everything else, the proof is in the pudding (or biryani).
Over the years, there have been more than a few corporates who found no time to respond to our queries for multiple stories. Strangely enough, they seem to be quite hyperactive when it comes to plugging in their CSR work in PRs and their own annual/CSR reports.
Here, we take a look at three well-known companies who are yet to participate:
- Unilever: This one might come as a surprise. After all, the FMCG sector in India is known to invest quite a bit of its time and money in CSR (even though part of the generosity may be attributable to the existing law). However, even for a focused piece on this sector for which we reached out to multiple FMCG companies and received responses from a few, Unilever was conspicuous by its absence. After multiple follow-ups, they did deign to ask us to resend the questions but in turn, what we got was radio silence. For other pieces such as sexual harassment at workplaces, the company apparently considered even that to be too much work for them.
- HDFC Bank: For a critical piece on financial inclusion, HDFC Bank directed us to its annual report and stated they would not be able to participate ‘given the paucity of time’. The last bit, however, was not due to any oversight on CB’s part. The response came after a fair amount of cajoling from our side. For other articles like individual social responsibility (ISR), a topic that’s fast gaining ground due to the growing awareness on climate change, the bank deemed it fit to not respond. However, for one of their own PR stories, we did receive a quick one-liner response to one of our questions. Small mercies!
- Wipro: Despite writing a focused piece on them, Wipro claimed to be too busy to respond to basic questions on their CSR and sustainability initiatives. They did send us the annual sustainability report, which was a superfluous gesture since that’s literally the first document that any half-sensible writer will refer to when pursuing this topic. Other times (the FMCG and ISR pieces, for example), there was simply no response.