What is CSR?
The global context
While there may be no single universally accepted definition of CSR, each definition that currently exists underpins the impact that businesses have on society at large and the societal expectations of them. Although the roots of CSR lie in philanthropic activities (such as donations, charity, relief work, etc.) of corporations, globally, the concept of CSR has evolved and now encompasses all related concepts such as triple bottom line, corporate citizenship, philanthropy, strategic philanthropy, shared value, corporate sustainability and business responsibility. It is clear that:
- The CSR approach is holistic and integrated with the core business strategy for addressing social and environmental impacts of businesses.
- CSR needs to address the well-being of all stakeholders and not just the company’s shareholders.
- Philanthropic activities are only a part of CSR, which otherwise constitutes a much larger set of activities entailing strategic business benefits.
CSR in India
CSR in India has traditionally been seen as a philanthropic activity. And in keeping with the Indian tradition, it was an activity that was performed but not deliberated. As a result, there is limited documentation on specific activities related to this concept. However, what was clearly evident that much of this had a national character encapsulated within it, whether it was endowing institutions to actively participating in India’s freedom movement, and embedded in the idea of trusteeship. undertaking in this space in their official websites, annual reports, sustainability reports and even publishing CSR reports. The Companies Act, 2013 has introduced the idea of CSR to the forefront and through its disclose-or-explain mandate, is promoting greater transparency and disclosure.
Why is the CSR clause of the new Companies Act, 2013 so critical for SMEs?
By requiring companies, with a minimum net profit of 5 crore INR, to spend on CSR activities, the Companies Act, 2013 is likely to bring in many SMEs into the CSR fold. This will usher in a fresh set of challenges to a sector that is increasingly being asked by its B2B customers to comply with environmental and social standards, while remaining competitive in terms of price and quality. Thus, SMEs will have to quickly learn to be compliant with these diverse set of requirements and it is hoped that this handbook will facilitate their ability to comply with the CSR clause of the Companies Act, 2013.
Business responsibility reporting
The other reporting requirement mandated by the government of India, including CSR is by the SEBI which issued a circular on 13 August 2012 mandating the top 100 listed companies to report their ESG initiatives. These are to be reported in the form of a BRR as a part of the annual report. SEBI has provided a template for filing the BRR. Business responsibility reporting is in line with the NVG published by the Ministry of Corporate Affairs in July 2011. Provisions have also been made in the listing agreement to incorporate the submission of BRR by the relevant companies. The listing agreement also provides the format of the BRR. The BRR requires companies to report their performance on the nine NVG principles. Other listed companies have also been encouraged by SEBI to voluntarily disclose information on their ESG performance in the BRR format.