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New CSR rules in offing
June, 23rd 2008

Mere lip service to crucial aspects on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) may not be enough as steps are being initiated in setting standards to make India Inc a socially and environmentally responsible citizen.

The Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI), the statutory body that sets accounting and auditing standards for the corporate sector, is working on a new set of rules on CSR, making it a must for companies to report on social, environmental and economic initiatives.

"Broadly, the concept is to ensure that today's development and growth does not come at the cost of the future generation," ICAI secretary Ashok Haldia told TOI. Inspired by Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), a collaborating centre of the United Nations Environment Programme, ICAI has formed a committee to develop a framework for standardising the disclosures related to sustainability reporting, which is likely to come out with its suggestions in a few months.

The issue assumes importance in the backdrop of accusations that many companies realise growth at the cost of the environment and the society at large. For example, despite innumerable efforts, debates and even legal interventions, lifeline rivers like the Yamuna and the holy Ganges have fallen prey to waste from factories. Not only that, many Indian companies have often lost big orders from overseas clients after being accused of employing child labour. Be it in the paper industry, soft drink, or automobile, many companies have often come under scanner for exploiting environment for benefits.

Haldia said the objective of the committee is to see how companies report on social, economic and environmental aspects. While on the social aspect, it can be linked to reporting on public community development efforts and labour laws among other issues, on the economic front it can be linked to disclosures on how much value they are adding to the society. "But what should be the format for this, and should it be set against some benchmarks, has to be considered," Haldia added.

GRI has pioneered the development of the world's most widely used sustainability reporting framework and is committed to its continuous improvement and application worldwide. The framework sets out principles and indicators that organisations can use to measure and report their economic, environmental, and social performance. The cornerstone of the framework is the Sustainability Reporting Guidelines.

The GRI framework understands that the same principles cannot be applied across various industries and nations and thus has worked out sector supplements (unique indicators for industry sectors) and protocols (detailed reporting guidance) and national annexes (unique country-level information).

According to GRI, more than 1500 companies, including many of the world's leading brands, have given consent to voluntary adoption of its Sustainability Reporting Guidelines worldwide. The Indian economy is growing rapidly and in the era of globalization, adoption of sustainability reporting is inevitable in order to access global markets and attract foreign capital, Haldia said.

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