Why are corporates shying away from supporting nutrition through CSR?
The Global Hunger Index (GHI) 2021 Report proved to be a rude shock for India. The country’s position dropped to 101st from the preceding 94th for the year 2020. What is more surprising is that our country is lagging behind others like Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan – that are otherwise eons behind India in developmental parameters.
Despite the fact that the Government of India is executing well-planned hunger annihilation schemes and projects like the Mid-Day Meal Scheme (MDMS), the Antodaya Ann Yojana, and the Annapurna Scheme amongst others, the GHI 2021 report came as an upsetting eye opener for the gatekeepers of nutrition. While it is time to introspect on the implementation of this plethora of schemes on the ground, the solution to improve the status of nutrition in this country is right before us, namely the Companies Act 2013. The Union Budget allocates an annual fund to the Government of India, private fundraisers and various NGOs to fight hunger. Amongst this, one of the least utilized resources includes the funds given out by Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) departments of corporates and multi-national companies operating in India. CSR under Section 135 of the same Act states that each organization with a net worth of Rs. 500 crores, or a turnover of Rs. 1,000 crores have to invest at least 2% of their profits in various social welfare activities which includes food and nutrition, amongst others.
In spite of the explicit mention in law, recent statistics reveal that corporates are adopting a ‘pick and choose’ approach while solely focussing on investing their CSR budgets in the sectors of education, health, rural development and environmental sustainability. Even though these areas deserve their fair share of attention and awareness, none of these come under the ‘chronic’ category on international parameters. It is surprising to see that investment in food and nutrition centric projects have declined dramatically over the years even though the hunger crisis keeps increasing at a very high pace in this country. This has occurred especially after a few NGOs have surfaced in the news for misusing allocated funds. While such organizations should be rightly called out, the complete cessation of funds on food and nutrition should not be done. There are an ample number of organizations that are operating day and night to provide food resources to people in need. Lack of investment in their projects from the side of corporates discourages them to take on food-related initiatives, which further pushes the country into a chronic hunger crisis.
Issues like hunger and starvation affect the functionality of our entire society. Therefore, they must be dealt with, with mutual cooperation and collective accountability. Food and nutrition as a whole cannot be ignored as it is the basic survival resource and requirement for a person – before anything else. 18 crores and counting is the figure of people who are undernourished in India. Now the question that arises is – how can this sad state of affairs be changed in this country? What is the road ahead?
One has to understand that hunger cannot end in a day, month or even year. It takes a considerable amount of time, energy and funds that are to be invested in order to tackle undernourishment, hunger and related illnesses and diseases. Thus, the need of the hour is sustainable, concentrated and continuous efforts to tackle the hunger epidemic. If multi-national companies and corporates that are operating in India are mandated to spend a certain fixed percentage of their CSR budget on food-centric projects, a big change can be brought in the direction of battling chronic hunger. If the government, corporate world and non-profit organizations work at the same pace towards the annihilation of hunger in the country, there would not be a single individual going to sleep on an empty stomach.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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