Silence of business lambs

Silence in oppression

THE TELEGRAPH KOLKATA

21 August 2017

CHARU SUDAN KASTURI AND G. S. MUDUR

 

Isaac Gomes(Note: They say "Silence is Golden."  But this is not always the case.  CEOs in America speak out but not those in India.  There is a strange silence which prevails in India.  People especially those who are well-to-do and are empowered maintain an eerie silence on the unjust and unacceptable goings-on in the nation, their neighbourhood, including Church Organisations where coterie culture and corrupt practices go on unabated. Anybody who speaks out is branded as washing dirty linen in public – especially by Church authorities.  Martin Luther King, Jr. said: "History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people."  Desmond Tutu said: "If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor."  "Silence in the face of injustice is complicity with the oppressor" said Ginetta Sagan,  Italian-born American human rights activist.  A very timely report by the Telegraph Kolkata. Isaac Gomes, Church Citizens' Voice).

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New Delhi, Aug. 20: When violence linked to cow vigilantism was hitting the headlines this June, biotech major Biocon's chairperson Kiran Mazumdar- Shaw shared an article on Mahatma Gandhi's favourite bhajan , "Vaishnav Janato", with her over 1 million followers on Twitter.

It was well past 9pm on a Saturday. But her decision awakened a flood of vitriol.

The article's title — which the entrepreneur had relayed in her post — referred to the hymn's relevance to "Modi's hate- filled India". Through the rest of that night and Sunday morning, Bangalore- based Mazumdar- Shaw responded to hate, abuse, threats against her company and suggestions that her message was motivated.

She said she was against hatepeddling vigilantes, not Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

As the backlash continued, Mazumdar- Shaw stopped after a 16- round exchange at lunchtime on Sunday, ending with a weary, almost apologetic, message.

"Yes, I too respect our PM," she wrote." I guess the caption should have focused on divisive forces within our society." In the US, the world's second-largest democracy after India, President Donald Trump's controversial response to a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where a counter- protester was killed has sparked a wave of public criticism from corporate leaders and artistes.

Many industry chieftains and artistes on Presidential panels have spoken out and/ or resigned after Trump first delayed a response to the incident, then refused to explicitly name groups like neo- Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan that were involved, and finally blamed "both sides", including those protesting against the white supremacists.

Darren Walker, the president of the Ford Foundation and a board member at Pepsi- Co, told The New York Times that the forthright engagement of the executives with one of the most charged political issues in years was "a seminal moment in the history of business in America". "In this maelstrom, the most clarifying voice has been the voice of business," he said.

"These CEOs have taken the risk to speak truth to power. "On the other side of the world, Modi has chosen when to condemn hate crimes, and failed to explicitly name the outfits responsible or to distance himself from online warriors who have justified these attacks and whom the Prime Minister follows.

Almost no major industry captain or artiste has publicly pressed the Prime Minister to speak and act sooner or more forcefully. The few that have articulated worries — even without questioning the Prime Minister — have faced, at the least, online bullying.

"Corporate leaders in India don't want to be seen taking on the government," C. Panduranga Bhatta, professor and head of the business ethics and communications group at the Indian Institute of Management Calcutta, said.

"The balance of power is different from that in, say, the US. Here they fear that if they speak against the government, they may have the CBI at their door." For corporate houses keen to expand, the ability of federal and state governments in India to influence the allocation of licences or the release of loans through public sector banks is also a limiting factor, analysts and executives said.

"A lot of them just want to be in the good books of the government," Bhatta said.

These structural challenges to private companies' ability to express views contrary to the government's have preceded the Modi administration, experts said.

But the perception that criticism of the government can lead to retribution against a company and its promoters has gained strength under the current administration, several corporate leaders indicated to this newspaper — even on industry- specific issues.

This newspaper sought opinions from private- sector executives across sectors.

Some spoke on condition they would not be named. Others, including Mazumdar- Shaw, did not respond.

In 2015, nine months into Modi's tenure, the chairperson of a major private bank publicly articulated the frustration and growing impatience within industry and argued that the changes promised by the Prime Minister were yet to materialise.

At a meeting the following month, another senior official of the bank told others present that he (the senior official) had to issue a placatory statement to assuage the government, a person present in the room recalled.

Months later, in June, the chairperson moderated his earlier comments in public. The bank today declined comment on the official's private conversation or the chairperson's comments.

Modi had in April this year indicated that his government might take steps to require doctors to prescribe medicines only through their generic or pharmacological names, a proposal considered impractical by doctors, industry and medical regulators.

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A spokesperson for an association of pharmaceutical manufacturers had reacted to the proposal, contending that a move to make generic names mandatory might "compromise patient safety". A day later, a representative of the association called this newspaper and said it would like to withdraw the statement.

"The statement is correct, but the association does not want to appear to be questioning the Prime Minister's views," the representative said.

Civil rights activists and observers have tracked what they argue is a growth in hate crimes — against Muslims and Dalits in particular — since the Modi government came to power in May 2014.

According to data- driven journalism portal IndiaSpend.com, 97 per cent of cow vigilantism-related attacks since 2010 have occurred after May 2014.

Modi's responses to these hate crimes have been ambiguous like Trump's.

After a mob lynched 52-year-old Mohammed Akhlaque in Dadri, Uttar Pradesh, in September 2015 on suspicion that he had stored beef in his refrigerator, Modi remained silent despite calls to condemn the act.

Ten days after the incident, Modi referred to then President Pranab Mukherjee's comments the previous day.

Mukherjee, without mentioning the Dadri incident, had advocated "tolerance". The Prime Minister said the President had shown the "path" to the nation.

When Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula committed suicide on January 17 last year, accusing the University of Hyderabad — his centrally run varsity — of caste discrimination, Modi initially appeared unaffected.

After a storm of criticism built up, Modi, who had posed and smiled in public till then, broke into tears in public on January 22, speaking about the pain of Vemula's mother.

It was a month after the flogging of Dalits in Una, Gujarat, by cow vigilantes in July last year that Modi condemned violence under the garb of protecting cows.

The Prime Minister followed a similar pattern after a teenager, Junaid, was killed on a suburban Delhi train after a flurry of bigoted comments and allegations he was carrying beef in June 2017.

A week after the incident, following nationwide protests under a banner "Not in My Name," Modi again criticised violence in the name of cow protection.

On occasion, corporate leaders and film artistes have criticised hate crimes and voiced their concerns — without directly linking Modi to these incidents. But the response they've faced has bolstered perceptions that criticising the government may come with costs.

E-retail firm Snapdeal and the government's Incredible India campaign decided against renewing actor Aamir Khan's contract as brand ambassador in early 2016, months after he had publicly voiced concerns over rising intolerance following the Akhlaque lynching.

In the US, customers have pressured companies to get their CEOs to boycott Trump's panels after Charlottesville. In India, it was Modi supporters who threatened a boycott of Snapdeal unless Khan was dropped.

They succeeded.

How American CEOs found their voice

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DAVID GELLES

A mid the turbulence in the US, a surprising group of Americans is testing its moral voice more forcefully than ever: CEOs. After Nazi-saluting white supremacists rioted in Charlottesville, Virginia, and President Trump dithered in his response, a chorus of business leaders rose up to condemn hate groups and espouse tolerance and inclusion.

This and other actions are part of a broad recasting of the voice of business in America's political and social dialogue, a transformation that has gained momentum in recent years as the US has engaged in fraught debates over everything from climate change to health care.

The transformation didn't happen overnight.

Chief executives face a constellation of pressures, and speaking up can create considerable uncertainty. Customers can be offended, colleagues can feel isolated and relations with lawmakers can suffer. All this as a chief executive is expected to constantly grow sales.

Even last week, it was easy to discern careful calculations made by executives who chose to speak out against Trump. Many faced calls to resign from the presidential advisory councils, and the prospect of boycotts if they did not.

But they also faced notable and new kinds of pressure from within — from employees who expect or encourage their company to stake out positions on numerous controversial social or economic causes, and from board members concerned with reputational issues.

In short, while companies are naturally designed to be moneymaking enterprises, they are adapting to meet new social and political expectations in sometimes startling ways.

"Not every business decision is an economic one," said Howard Schultz, the chairman of Starbucks.

Companies have reckoned with issues of race, class and gender for generations now.

But for the most part, companies got political only under duress. Rarely have chief executives gone looking for a controversy. Instead, the prevailing view was one articulated by the economist Milton Friedman in The New York Times in 1970: "The social responsibility of business is to increase its profits." This time, however, the business world's actions went beyond the donations to charity and pledges to plant trees that once defined corporate social responsibility.

None of this is to say that all corporate leaders are now beacons of morality. The Uber cofounder Travis Kalanick was ousted amid a mushrooming sexual abuse scandal at the company, and reports that he had cultivated a frat house culture.

Because companies have inherently diverse customers and employees, taking a stand can be a no-win situation for chief executives. For every employee, investor and customer they make happy, they may well make someone else unhappy.

Diversity — of opinions, ideologies and religions — is what makes taking a stand on moral issues so treacherous for CEOs. Yet paradoxically, it is also diversity — of races, genders and worldviews, among customers and the work force — that makes many of the executives, when forced to take a stand, come down on the side of inclusion, tolerance and acceptance.

Business leaders looking to the future are accepting that it is unwise to isolate swathes of the population by coming off as racist, sexist or intolerant. Instead, for the sake of the bottom line, it is imperative that they appeal to the widest possible audience. "Business leaders aren't threatened by an America that is browner, an America that is more diverse; they welcome that," said Darren Walker, the president of the Ford Foundation and a board member at PepsiCo.

" Business leaders are bullish on diversity." What's more, some executives have concluded that speaking out on issues of morality can improve more than their reputations — it can benefit recruitment, morale and even sales.

Kenneth C. Frazier, the chief executive of the drugmaker Merck, the son of a janitor and the grandson of a man born into slavery, offered remarks that set the tone for the business world at large. "Our country's strength stems from its diversity…. America's leaders must honour our fundamental values by clearly rejecting expressions of hatred, bigotry and group supremacy, which run counter to the American ideal that all people are created equal," Frazier wrote.

The CEOs had found their voice.

NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE ( This article is an abridged version)

 

WHAT THEY SAID

How US business spoke specifically about Trump while responding to the white supremacy campaign

220px-Kenneth_C._FrazierAmerica's leaders must honour our fundamental values by clearly rejecting expressions of hatred, bigotry and group supremacy, which run counter to the American ideal that all people are created equal.  – Kenneth C. Frazier Chief executive Merck

 

 

doug-mcmillon-walmart-stores

(Trump) missed a critical opportunity to help bring our country together by unequivocally rejecting the appalling actions of white supremacists. – Doug McMillon Chief executive Walmart

 

 

ImmeltThe President's statements were deeply troubling…. The committee (Council on American manufacturing) I joined had the intention to foster policies that promote American manufacturing and growth. However, given the ongoing tone of the discussion, I no longer feel that this council can accomplish these goals.  – Jeffrey Immelt Chairman General Electric

Tim CookI disagree with the President and others who believe that there is a moral equivalence between white supremacists and Nazis and those who oppose them by standing up for human rights. Equating the two runs counter to our ideals as Americans.

– Tim Cook CEO Apple

 

James MurdochWhat we watched this last week in Charlottesville and the reaction to it by the President of the United States concern all of us as Americans and free people. I can't even believe I have to write this: standing up to Nazis is essential; there are no good Nazis. Or Klansmen, or terrorists.

–  James Murdoch Chief executive 21st Century Fox

 


IMAGE DISTRIBUTED FOR JP MORGAN CHASE - Jamie Dimon, JP Morgan & Chase Co. Chairman and CEO, discusses the impact of The Fellowship Initiative, Monday, June 23, 2014, at JPMorgan Chase Headquarters in New York. The expanded Fellowship Initiative enrolls young men of color in Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York City in a multi-year hands-on enrichment program that includes academic, social and emotional support.  (Photo by Diane Bondareff/Invision for JPMorgan Chase/AP Images)

There is no room for equivocation here: the evil on display by these perpetrators of hate should be condemned and has no place in a country that draws strength from our diversity and humanity…. The equal treatment of all people is one of our nation's bedrock principles. –   Jamie Dimon Chief Executive JPMorgan

 

Some voices in Indian business have condemned efforts to control dietary habits but industry has largely remained silent on the need for the Prime Minister to speak out unequivocally on lynchings and other identity- related persecution, call out the perpetrators and fix responsibility. 

 

 

 

 

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