CSR and Environmental Protection

Corporate Social Responsibility and Environmental Protection

India has a history of having a compassionate attitude towards environment. But with the passage of time the ethical values towards society have degraded as a result of which judiciary intervened so as to protect the environment. A concept known as corporate social responsibility emerged in the light of right to pollution free environment and the constitutional duty to protect and improve the environment. In order to realise the constitutional objective of protecting environment the concept of Corporate Social Responsibility was recognised in the legislative enactments.

India is a welfare state. But with the passage of time Indian government has adopted liberalisation, privatization and globalization. Public sector has slowly shifted to private one. Therefore, the new concept of Corporate Social Responsibility[CSR] means a corporate sector shall perform such welfare function towards society which is necessary for maintaining the social interest of the society. Some scholars have defined CSR as a social commitment of a businessman or a social obligation or moral or ethical responsibility or a corporate social philanthropy. In the words of Mahatma Gandhi, business entrepreneurs are trustees and not the owners of the social wealth and they have to spend a part of it for social causes.

Concept of Corporate Social Responsibility

The emerging concept of corporate social responsibility goes beyond charity and requires the company to act ethically in the company’s business affairs. The triple bottom line approach to corporate social responsibility emphasizes the company’s commitment to operating in economically, socially and environmentally sustainable manner. CSR is based on the idea that successful profitable corporations should take the responsibility for social issues and manage their business in such a way that maximises profit and stockholder wealth while also contributing to the resolution of the social problems. The concept involves notions of human welfare and emphasizes a concern with the social dimensions of the business activity that have direct connection with the quality of life in the society. It is a concept whereby the companies integrate social and environmental concern in their business operations and in their interactions with the stakeholders on a voluntary basis. The main function of an enterprise is to create value through producing goods and services that society demands, thereby generating profit for its owners and shareholders as well as the welfare of the society, particularly through the on-going process of job creation. Social responsibility implies the acceptance of a moral imperative to recognise the duties and obligations arising from a company’s relationship with customers, suppliers, employers, shareholders and society at large beyond consideration of profit. It refers to business decision making linked to the ethical values, compliance with the legal requirements and respect for people and communities and environment.

The expansion of right to life under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution inspired the judiciary to open the new vistas in this regard. However, it took a long time for the apex court to pronounce explicitly that the right to life under article 21 of the Indian constitution contains a right to healthy environment, although the high Courts had gone ahead much earlier. Imposition of damages on the defaulting industry for causing disturbance to the water is justified on the touchstone of right to life, and duty to protect and improve environment. The right to healthy environment is the product of judicial interpretations adding new dimensions to the right to life in Article 21 of the constitution of India. On the other hand, 42nd amendment to the constitution has imposed the duty on the state and the citizens to protect and improve environment, by adding article 48 A to the directive principle of state policy and 51 A (g) as a fundamental duty.

Environment Protection Measures

Irrespective of whether a company is polluting or non-polluting, protection of environment should be the concern of every socially responsible organisation. Each company must take steps to make sustainable use of resources, establish a healthy and safe working environment, maintain ecological balance, take proactive steps to minimise waste generation and preserve environment.

Corporate business ethics:

Ethics is a set of principles or standard of human conduct that govern the behaviour of individuals or organisations. Using these ethical standards, a person or group of persons or organisations regulate their behaviour to distinguish what is right and what is wrong as perceived by others. It is not a natural science but a creation of human mind. All human societies have ethical systems that define what is meant by right and wrong, fairness, justice, truthfulness and similar ideas dealing with morality and rightness. Individuals who live in those societies learn more from childhood what is considered as ethical and unethical.

Model Environmental Policy

The company’s commitment towards is absolute. The company believes in sustainable development by ensuring that the activities are in harmony with environment. The company in the process of various steps of manufacturing is committed to achieving excellence in environmental performance and towards this objective shall: 

  • Adopt appropriate operational practices and suitable technologies to monitor, control and minimise the impact of its activities on environment.
  • Continually improve its performance by setting the objectives and targets to prevent or reduce pollution and waste and minimise the use of resources
  • Comply with all relevant legislative and regulatory environmental requirements.
  • Develop and maintain a highly motivated workforce trained for effective management of environment and emergency situation.
  • Provide relevant information on environmental policy to the concerned authorities and interested parties and ensure that the policy is understood, implemented and explained by the employees at all levels within the organisation.
  • Evaluate and modify environmental management practices keeping in view regulatory requirements, community concerns and technological advancements.

CORPORATE ENVIRONMENTAL LIABILITY

The notions that the individuals, by extension also the corporations, bear the solemn responsibility towards the environment is not new. The Stockholm Conference referred in Principle 1 to man’s ‘solemn responsibility ’to protect and improve environment. Thus, the world charter for the nature talks of the duty of ‘each person’ to act in accordance with the terms. The draft principles on Human Rights and environment states that that ‘All persons have the duty to protect and preserve the environment.’ None of these instruments creates legally binding obligations for individuals as such. But they do provide a justification for using criminal responsibility as a means of enforcing international environmental law. 

It is only when the accident of magnitude and impact of Bhopal gas leak disaster took place, those environmentalists, social workers, general public and government institutions started thinking about the new ways and means of preventing similar tragedies in the future. This process leads to the legislative and administrative activism. The perception of the global concern about the environment is of recent origin. As Caldwell observed, “at the beginning of the twentieth century, neither the environment as an integrative ecological concept nor the biosphere as a planetary life support system was an object of public international concern.” 

The Bhopal gas leak accident, one of the worst industrial disasters in the human history, occurred approximately two years before the Supreme Court evolved the rule of absolute liability. It is not possible for the court to make quick decisions relating to compensation to the victims of the accidents like those of Bhopal gas leak.

Conclusion

The need to understand and act upon the concept of corporate social responsibility has gained momentum in the recent past not just in the legal precept but also in the judicial activism. The argument for the individual rights and by extension those of corporations and position of NGO’s stands apart as perhaps the strongest of the environmental claims. The pragmatic point is that the addressing the position of individual and other legally significant entities directly, international law facilitates wider participation in cesses of national governance, and more effective approach to the enforcement and implementation of law, primarily through the use of national legal systems. Besides the constitutional and legislative duty, it becomes an ethical duty not only of individuals but of the corporate houses to protect and improve the quality environment. Right to pollution free environment could be achieved by realising common but differentiated responsibility at every stratum of the society.

 

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