Friday, December 30, 2011

Ethical Consumerism

So it's time to do the group blog posts again and the topic of choosing this time is “Ethical Consumerism” chosen by Swati. Sounds straight out of an MBA course? In a way it is, because Swati’s also working on this as part of her MBA and it helps to hear other’s views on it. To me it sounds familiar as well, because a few months back I had a discussion on the very same topic with my husband who’s doing his MBA.

So there we were on a beautiful Saturday morning, with warm rays of sunshine filtering down through the blue clouds. There had been a fresh sprinkling of snow the night before and our patio was covered in the sheer veneer of it, it was a beautiful sight. So, armed with hot cups of coffee, we sat down – to discuss Ethical Consumerism and Corporate Social Responsibility! Interesting topics, don’t you think? At that point of time, I certainly didn’t think so!

Even though Corporate Social Responsibility or CSR would entail other aspects too, like contributing to charities, doing your part for eradicating poverty, giving to the unfortunate etc, at some level it is also linked to how ethical their practices are. Swati’s specific questions were:

As consumers of products (any product is fine) - do you give preference to those that are ethically produced? I.e. do you put a thought into what you buy, how it is made, is it tested on animals or such. How is the company doing in terms of social causes and environment friendliness?

When I was growing up in India, I never used to pay special attention to how products were made, their testing practices, the company’s contributions towards the environment and social causes, but lately, I have been reading up a lot on such. In addition to reaping profits, keeping their books transparent and aiding in the overall economic development, it's required that every company now also play their part in taking responsibility for their actions and adhere to required norms in ethical, moral ways for the environment, consumers and the community as such. As an aspect of CSR, most organizations dabble in philanthropy, donating to charities for the disabled, those less fortunate, providing for education, yet others donate to foundations that are geared towards protecting the environment - planting saplings, cleaning up beaches, volunteering at schools and so on.

I will be honest, my decisions on buying products have not been so influenced with the organization’s views on CSR, but buying food has. A while ago, I dabbled in eating non-vegetarian food, trying different kinds of meat/seafood and even with that, I would be careful to buy stuff only from places where they boasted of ethical treatment of animals, not pumping them with hormones and such. However, it was possibly more due to my guilt than the "ethics" – due to the feeling that I was taking a life having been a vegetarian so long. I have moved back to the vegetarian side now, but even when I browse the grocery stores and wander into the meat section accidently, my eyes do wander towards the stickers that state something to that effect. I am a big fan of Bath and Body Works which clearly states that the finished product has not been tested on animals.

However, in the world of drugs and pharmaceuticals, it is still important to go in for animal testing, so it cannot be avoided entirely. For the advancement of science, for the greater good – in research to find the cure for cancer or AIDs or the next serious disorder, there will be situations where animal testing would be a must before they can go in for human testing and we cannot but condone it.

As far as social responsibility goes, I like to read about/promote organizations that, rather than donate to charities, have their employees do their part for the environment or the community. Recently, I read an article where the employees of Infosys had taken to the streets cleaning up the mess and painting over walls streaked with graffiti. It’s a win-win situation – the company doesn’t need to spend too much money and the employees feel good about themselves having contributed to the environment. In all honesty, I am skeptical of foundations that accept donations, because I don’t know where the money actually ends up. Having known/experienced phony charities, I prefer to work with or encourage foundations that roll up their sleeves, get into the deep and then truly work at the grass root level.

One major turn-off for me while buying products is, if the organization has been linked in racism or child labor. I do not buy fireworks from the Sivakasi fireworks anymore, having read all about the disgusting conditions in which children work in the factory, with the organization not paying attention to their safety or health. I recently had stopped buying the “Tommy Hilfiger” brand after I read an article in which the designer Tommy Hilfiger allegedly announced on Oprah Winfrey’s show that “If I knew that blacks and Asians were going to wear my clothes, I would have never designed them”. It was later confirmed, that this was a rumor and Tommy had not even been on Oprah’s until a couple of years after this statement was supposedly made. In today’s age, one cannot afford to make racist statements. The world is moving at an astounding pace, scary in fact, with every country going nuclear, a single spark could ignite a war. So yes, I condemn racism majorly and hence, products by organizations linked to it in any way are a major no-no for me.

Our company, iGate-Patni, on every New Years, sends New Year’s greetings to the top leadership at every client’s and then plants a sapling in their name in Madhya Pradesh. I do not know how much these get cared for, but do I like the thought of going green. The organization where my sister works, gave every single employee a ‘Tulsi’ sapling to take home and nurture, on their “Foundation Day”. With global warming threatening ice caps and melting glaciers, with the weather getting truly messed up around the world, I appreciate the fact that these organizations are trying to do what they can for the environment.

So while I might not specifically have the “good” in mind, while I go shopping, I know I will not condone the “bad” part. Miniscule as my purchase may be, knowing that my not buying something would hardly make a dent in their profits; at least I can have the mental satisfaction that I wouldn’t be adding to it.

I would love to hear your views!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Five Quotes I love and live by

The topic of choosing this month is "5 Quotes I love and live by".
Chosen by: Swapna Shirwalkar
Our pack is growing and we're now a group of 8 spirited individuals! More people, more fun, more perspective, more discussions and emails ! I thought choosing 5 quotes would be easy, but 5 favorites is one thing, 5 quotes I love and live by is a whole different ballgame. Here's my pick.

1. Whatever happens, happens for the best.
I do not know if that's an original quote in English, but in Hindi we have this saying "Jo bhi hota hain acche ke liye hota hain". We all pass through hundreds of decisions every day, some minor some ultra-major ones - life changing events - going back to India, filing for visa, resigning from a job, joining a new organization, making friends, letting someone go, forgiving forgetting and so on. Each of these no matter how minute cause us to think and then possibly think back later too and wonder if what we did was right. I have done that so many times. Double guessed my own decisions. But most times, whatever decisions I took with all heart are the ones I stayed with. It’s easy to say this, but to live by it is a struggle at times, I must admit. Every time something appears bleak and I teeter on the verge of regret, I have to really convince myself that I will see that silver lining pretty soon. So far I haven't been disappointed.

2. The grass is always greener on the other side.
Contradictory to the one above, don't you think? How can one always crib about the grass being greener on the other side and yet agree that whatever happens, happens for the best? That’s because we are innately human, we have this tendency to want, to aspire, to achieve more. When I was working, I wanted to take a break from work and do other things. When I was home for a year, I couldn't wait to get back to work. That's basic human psychology. So yes, many a times, my days start out like those too, but in the grand scheme of things #1 trumps #2 every time !

3. Opportunity never knocks twice
Easier said than done. This was a quote that I remember from the days I was growing up. I don't know how much of it I live by, but this is certainly something I believe. On the same lines, when one door closes, another opens, but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one that has opened for us. I try to keep up as much as I can. When I was home, I volunteered at the school - taught Math, taught Computer Skills to foreign immigrants, volunteered at the library. We've been to a lot of places in US, I love to travel, shamefully though I haven't visited too many countries, have gone skydiving, snorkeling, am trying to learn swimming, there's a whole bunch of things I still have to do ! It’s important to use the time and achieve everything you want to, be it something as simple as learning a new recipe. We never know if/when we would get another chance. I must admit I haven't always be able to "grab" these opportunities, especially those times when I mope around having lost the chance to do something else. But I'm trying!

4. "Neki kar dariya mein daal"
Now this is a quote, which I am not sure if it exists in English or not. It’s a very heartfelt saying that has always appealed to me, especially in the recent times. Basically, what it means is that "Do your bit and do not have any expectations from anyone around the outcome". Everything around us has become high-tech these days, friendships have moved online to social networking sites like Facebook, there are more "Facebook" friends and real friends talk rarely (even though when that rare talk does occur, it does not feel that way, it’s always as if nothing changed!). Families meet lesser and lesser by the day, demands at work ever-increasing, people have become more demanding and materialistic. In the midst of all this, relationships have taken a beating. I have slowly acclimatized to the fact, that just because I do a lot for someone or try to be a great friend to someone doesn't mean I have a great friend back. If I try and help someone in their time of need, does not mean that he/she would be around later on when I have a need. If I have that expectation, then I am not acting in the spirit of friendship/helping. So, I do my bit and forget about the rest. And no, that does not make me bitter. It just makes me understand people around me better. Except for immediate family and my closest friends, for all my acquaintances, this quote has started to seem more and more apt. “No expectations” is definitely a good way to go.

5. Be the change you want to see in the world.
Said Mr. M.K. Gandhi. And it is so true. A simple task can get delayed if you wait around for someone else to do it. I remember of a story in my Dad's Hindi textbook (when he had to take mandatory Hindi classes since he was in BARC) of 3 brothers who are farmers and a sparrow that builds a nest in their tree. After waiting around for his 2 elder brothers to get rid of the nest so the birds don’t destroy the crops, the 3rd brother finally has to do it himself. It is reality. Be it a "daily chore" task or a policy change, a way of life change, protesting against something unfair, doing something righteous, choosing the right path, helping someone, whatever be the "work", we have to do it and be fair ourselves. We talk about India having "baggage" in terms of corruption, cleanliness issues, littering, infrastructure etc. How are we ourselves ensuring that we do not accidentally/intentionally contribute to the wrong doing? Meager support of Anna Hazare is not going to solve it. We have to pledge ourselves to the cause too. Do not litter. Do not bribe. In other words, Be the Change!

I would love to hear your views!
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