Corporate Social Responsibility is a mask used by companies to hide their profit hungry ways and put up a positive image to the general public. Vedanta, owner of Sterlite plant in Tuticorin does a lot of such activities and occasionally get caught.
Devastating lives of thousands of people by their business operations on the one side, and projecting a benevolent image on the other side is typical of corporate capitalism. However, Sterlite owner Vedanta stands out even in the corporate world.
Excerpts from a research article by thewire.in
In recent years, Vedanta has emerged as a crucial financial backer of prominent Indian cultural events, from literature – the London edition of Jaipur Literature Festival – to documentary film-making as well as socially-conscious programmes.
- In 2005, an official CSR team was created within the organisation. the least-performing executives were shunted to CSR positions
Long-promised but never-completed community projects such as a massive cancer and research centre in Chattisgarh and a “world-class, billion-dollar” university in Odisha were dusted off and revived with new promise.
- In the same year, Vedanta proudly touted that its various companies in India had spent over Rs 300 crore on corporate social responsibility that financial year, nearly 3% of their combined profit, which was above the mandatory 2% most Indian companies are required to spend.
At the same time, many of Vedanta’s outreach initiatives have been seen as an attempt at white-washing the allegations against it and improving its poor image.
In 2012, it sponsored a short-film competition, which asked for submissions on the the impact of the company’s social development projects. In what proved to be an embarrassment for Vedanta, two members of the film competition’s jury, actor Gul Panag and director Shyam Benegal, pulled out over objections raised over the company’s poor track-record on environmentalism.
“My basic belief did not allow me to say yes,” Benegal was reported as saying, when asked about his resignation. Panag went one step further, tweeting: “My bad, just got full details. I wasn’t aware that the competition was part of #Vedanta glorification/PR. Have pulled out”.
- Four years later, in 2016, the company’s sponsorship of the Jaipur Literature Festival’s edition in London sparked calls for a boycott campaign. Over a hundred academics and writers launched a protest campaign and a “Boycott Vedanta JLF ‘London’” event, and stated that the “shameless PR campaign” must be targeted in order to express “solidarity with the many communities suffering pollution, illness, oppression, displacement and poverty as a result of Vedanta’s operations”.
- In June 2008, a group of Indian activists and filmmakers, including Arundhati Roy and Sanjay Kak, slammed Tehelka’s reportage on the company’s alumina project in Lanjigarh. One of the magazine’s stories, in particular, had noted that critics of Vedanta’s bauxite mining project were satisfied by the company’s rehabilitation package and that protests from locals had all but faded into the background.
“The story flies in the face of all that everybody knows…In an information-war on an issue on which billions of dollars rest, it is obviously of concern that Tehelka is suddenly contradicting its own good reporting. And there are inevitably those in Lanjigarh and elsewhere who see this article as a handout of Vedanta’s own propaganda.”
In August 2014, The Caravan documented how a public hearing in Lanjigarh, aimed at discussion the potential expansion of Vedanta’s alumina-producing facility, was grossly mis-reported by most mainstream media largely because state government authorities and company officials had “rushed to declare the hearing” was a success.
According to local media reports from the time, Dongariya Kondh villagers had actually stormed the meeting, snatched away the microphones and “raised slogans against Vedanta” while questioning “the purpose of holding such public hearing in the absence of locals and stage managed by the ruling BJD and company officials”.
In 2007, Norway’s state pension fund relinquished its holding in the company over what it described as “environmental and human rights violations”. Three years later, prominent investors such as the Church of England the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust also sold their stakes for similar reasons.
Its green clearance was pulled by India’s environment ministry in the same year for “violating forests laws in Orissa”.