Saturday, November 29, 2014

India’s Best Companies For CSR 2014

In the first installment of a two edition special, ET Corporate Dossier, in league with Futurescape and IIM Udaipur, presents the definitive listing of companies with the best programmes for Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR):

1. Tata Steel: The company uses Human Development Index to keep track of CSR in villages. 

2. Tata Chemicals: The company spends Rs 12 cr on CSR every year & wildlife conservation tops priority.

3. Mahindra Group: CSR is a mix of strategic philanthropy, shared values & sustainability.

4. Maruti Suzuki: Community development and road safety propel Maruti's CSR in the fast lane.

5. Tata Motors: The company drives CSR through healthcare and education.

6. Siemens

7. Larsen & Toubro

8. Coca-Cola India

9. Steel Authority of India

10. Infosys 

India's Best Companies For CSR 2014: Top 5 slots split between TATA, Mahindra Group & Maruti Suzuki

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

India's Corporate Social Responsibility - New Requirements

In August 2013, the Indian parliament passed the Indian Companies Act, 2013 (the "New Act"), which has replaced the Companies Act of 1956. The New Act has made far-reaching changes affecting company formation, administration and governance, and it has increased shareholder control over board decisions. The New Act is being implemented in stages, and we have been monitoring its progression.

Corporate Social Responsibility

One of the New Act's most startling changes—which came into effect on April 1, 2014—has been to impose compulsory corporate social responsibility  obligations ("CSR") upon Indian companies and foreign companies operating in India. These obligations mainly come in the form of mandatory amounts companies must contribute to remediating social problems. This is a wholly new requirement; although companies were permitted, within certain limits, to make charitable contributions in the past, the New Act is essentially a self-administered tax. The Indian Ministry of Corporate Affairs recently has published, or "notified," detailed rules implementing the CSR requirements. 

Entities Covered by the CSR Obligations

The threshold coverage levels for CSR are low.  Companies are subject to the CSR requirements if they have, for any financial year: 
  • a net worth of at least Rs. 5 billion (approximately U.S.$80 million);
  • a turnover of at least Rs. 10 billion (approximately U.S.$160 million); or
  • net profits of at least Rs. 50 million (approximately U.S. [$800,000).
Companies meeting these thresholds are required to develop a CSR policy, spend a minimum amount on CSR activities and report on these activities, or prepare to explain why they didn't.

Required Amount of CSR Spending

An entity or business that meets these specified thresholds must spend on CSR activities no less than two percent of its average net profit for its preceding three financial years. Net profit means a company's profits as per its profit and loss account prepared in accordance with the New Act, but excludes profits from a company's operations outside India or dividends received from an Indian company that has itself met its CSR requirements. 

Permitted CSR Activities

There is a long list of permissible areas for CSR funding. They include such purposes as ending hunger and poverty; promoting public health; supporting education; addressing gender inequality; protecting the environment; and funding cultural initiatives and the arts.
All CSR funds must be spent in India. The New Act encourages companies to spend their CSR funds in the areas where they operate, but money cannot be spent on activities undertaken that are part of the normal course of the company's business or on projects for the exclusive benefit of employees or their family members. 
Contributions of any amount to a political party are not a permitted CSR activity. However, the New Act has an exception allowing companies to use their CSR funds to support development projects initiated by the prime minister or central government. It is important to note, as discussed further below, that such projects in India have had a troubling tendency to become vehicles for political patronage, and they can raise legal issues in other jurisdictions if they come to be seen as political payoffs. 

CSR Committee and CSR Policy

The New Act requires companies to appoint a Corporate Social Responsibility Committee consisting of at least three directors. If a company is one that is required by the New Act to appoint independent directors to its board, then the CSR committee must include at least one independent director. The CSR committee is required to recommend a formal CSR Policy. This document, which is to be submitted to the company's board, should recommend particular CSR activities, set forth a budget, describe how the company will implement the project, and establish a transparent means to monitor progress. 

Administration of CSR Projects

A company can meet its CSR obligations by funneling its activities through a third party, such as a society, trust, foundation or Section 8 company (i.e., a company with charitable purposes) that has an established record of at least three years in CSR-like activities. Companies may also collaborate and pool their resources, which could be especially useful for small and medium-sized enterprises.

Reporting Requirements

Unfortunately, the New Act imposes significant bureaucratic requirements. It requires companies to prepare a detailed report, in a particular format, about the company's CSR policy, the composition of the CSR committee, the amount CSR expenditures, and the specifics of individual CSR projects. A company's board must include this report in its annual report to shareholders and publish it on the company's website.
The report must also include a statement from the CSR committee that the implementation and monitoring of the board's CSR activities is, in letter and spirit, in compliance with its CSR objectives and CSR Policy of the company. 

Failure to Comply

If the minimum CSR amount is not spent, the board is required to disclose this fact, with reasons therefore, in its annual Director's Report to the shareholders. 
It is still not clear whether failure to comply is an legal offense of any sort.  Thus, the new Act may be the advent of a new regime in Indian corporation law of the concept of "comply or explain." What is clear, however, is that failure to explain non-compliance is a punishable offence under the New Act. It is therefore likely that any company that fails to comply with its CSR obligations will be subject to investigation by the Indian authorities.


The New Act's CSR requirements will increase the costs of doing business in India and add to existing administrative and reporting burdens. 
Unfortunately, the sheer amounts of money that must now be spent on CSR in India have increased substantially the dangers of violating U.S. and U.K. law, and we expect that there will be close scrutiny of companies' CSR payments by United States and U.K. authorities. Because of these risks, foreign companies with operations in India should seek the advice of counsel in structuring the CSR programs and establishing internal controls.