Programme PGP Term VI Academic Year 2021-22

Course title Investigating Corporate Social Irresponsibility Area Public Systems Group Credits 1.25

Prof. Kandathil George,
Prof. Navdeep Mathur

Course Description & Objectives
A Big-Box store’s recent advertising campaign exhorts people to replace all their old clothes, furniture, electronic items with new ones, by explicitly labeling old as inferior, and showing images of old furniture made of durable material counter-posed with images of brand new furniture made of particle-board. This campaign seeks to make claims about the speed and direction of the consumption patterns of people. Those claims can be counter-posed with the claims made on behalf of Environmental Sustainability – of consuming less, and therefore disposing less. This exhorts people to making fuller use of existing possessions, thus reducing the demands on the fragile ecology of the earth already severely under threat with unimaginable amount of non-degradable waste, and pollution.

While this is one example of corporate responsibility falling short in the context of the wide-spread efforts to mitigate the effects of over-consumption leading to irreversible environmental degradation, there are others that concern more direct severe risks to human health and survival such as the widespread promotion of carcinogens like tobacco. On other cases, the jury is still out or has reconvened in the light of adverse impacts of highly promoted ‘goods’ such as microwave ovens, mobile phones and other radiation sources, processed foods, and even milk. So why does a certain ‘Big Box Store’ see its profitability in making our natural environment and people’s innate sense to reuse and reduce their impact on the earth seem inferior?

There may be many reasons for environmentally and socially unsustainable practices to get incentivised and perpetuated at an ever increasing scale. For example, shareholders expect maximum returns on their investments where market valuations are based on long term views and account for the harms produced, however it is well accepted that both shareholders and markets mutually reinforce each other with short-run timeframes producing distorted values.

Likewise managers face incentives based on short-term targets producing myopic thinking and tunnel vision. Governments on their part may see short term gains of value extraction thereby transferring resources of which it is custodian to uses where it produces private profit and consumption induced growth.

This course makes an in-depth investigation into business practices and market strategy that are patently harmful for our society and the survival of our natural environment. Social Irresponsibility is not about ‘legal violations’ but behavior that is socially and environmentally harmful and unsustainable, yet not necessarily illegal. It therefore interrogates the nature of ‘corporate social responsibility’ by conducting a social-forensic analysis of the benefits of the practices widely prevalent in business corporations. It further looks at the emerging positive and constructive alternatives that connect responsible business to the cultural and social environment, and how budding managers can play a significant role in harnessing the methods of ‘socio-cultural’ understanding to make a positive contribution to society.