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Why a cigarette company awards bravery

Can corporate social responsibility be seen as an increasing avenue for creating an image balance, writes Ritu Tripathi.

india Updated: Nov 21, 2007 21:24 IST

Can corporate social responsibility be seen as an increasing avenue for creating an image balance, especially if it is adopted by companies whose products – such as cigarettes or alcohol – are under increasing critical scrutiny as consumables? One such company, Godfrey Phillips India, the second-largest cigarette player in the country with a turnover of Rs 1,495 crore, insists its CSR initiatives are genuine and expanding.

To all those skeptics who have looked at its much tom-tommed Bravery Awards as a mere PR gimmick, Godfrey Phillips has this to say: over 1,000 people across 16 states have been felicitated by the initiative so far for both, voluntary initiatives for betterment of community as well as selfless saving of lives. For instance, awards have been given in the past to individuals for developing low cost bio-fuel and for contributions to mother and child welfare programmes.

Besides, under the aegis of the award, two new initiatives of Blood Donation (24 such drives across seven states have been conducted and collected over 3,000 units of blood) and Women Empowerment have been introduced to create awareness, activate and encourage voluntary participation. For better management of these efforts, the Rs 1,495 crore company has tied up with well-known NGOs including the Charities Aid Foundation and Navjyoti Foundation.

Ten per cent of its profits, says the company, are spent on CSR. Avers Nita Kapoor, executive vice president, marketing & corporate affairs, Godfrey Phillips India, "The basic fundamental behind our CSR initiative is the acknowledgement of the existence of a relationship between the needs of society and the capacity of the enterprise to contribute to the management of those needs. Considering that we operate in a product category that is highly regulated, it is even more important that we take our responsibilities seriously. CSR is not just lip service for us."

Acknowledging the importance of social responsibility in its existence, the company, Kapoor states, has initiated serious measures and initiatives internally, with substantial budget allocations, to take the agenda forward. She cites the example of WHITE, or 'We Honour the Importance of Tobacco Etiquette' as one such internal initiative that propagates responsible smoking behaviour.

Every employee is expected to contribute in his/her individual capacity towards the socially responsive stance of the company, she says. "We believe that every employee is an ambassador of the organisation. Unless there is complete buy-in, our initiatives will be meaningless. We share ownership of our initiatives; there is constant communication and encouragement."

For instance, most of the blood donation drives are conducted successfully at the branch offices' end, wherein the corporate affairs department only provides support to carry it through. The employees themselves participate enthusiastically by donating blood. The same holds for the women empowerment projects, where the branches support various NGOs working towards this cause.

First Published: Nov 21, 2007 21:18 IST