CSR Evangelism: Rural Consumers Walk down the Road to Enlightenment.

AuthorKumar, Garima
PositionCorporate social responsibility


Today's organizations seek to woo their customers by enticing them to pick and choose. The new organizational culture practices seem to further intensify this trend, and the discourse of CSR (which, as argued here, is a stylized marketing move to strengthen the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) movement in the villages and rural poor) seems to have gained ground recently. Both discourses are based on the promise of mutual value co-creation, and a win-win approach for both the organization and the customer. In the following account, we debate upon this notion of CSR, and argue that many of these consumer wants and desires are unreflectively created.

We provide a critique of two certainly distinct, but conceptually intertwined discourses on CSR and CRM. We assess the marketing techniques of value co-creation (Prahalad & Ramaswamy, 2004a, 2000b), which encourages close and mutually beneficial company-customer relationships. Extending the scope of value co-creation, Prahalad (2004) builds the business case for tapping the bottom of the pyramid (BOP). For him, the poorest people of the world can offer lucrative business opportunities for companies regardless of their less than US$1 income per day, and also themselves be initiated to the consumption world. To articulate how CSR discourse governs both the consumer as well as employees, we draw on the work of Michel Foucault and his understanding of power, power relations and 'regimes of practice' or governmentality. Thereafter, we briefly discuss the concept of CSR, drawing on empirical evidence of a specific case study within the context of a fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) organization for a critical analysis.

Theoretical Constructs

A recurrent theme of Foucault's work is that of power and the exercise of power, its relational and omnipresent character. It is constructed within 'regimes of practice' (Foucault, 1991) which basically are coherent ways of going about and doing things. Thus, it is inscribed in discourse and language structures and all social practices, producing subjects--in the present case consumers as well as organizational employees. For Dean (1999), these regimes of practice e.g. administering, assessing, mentoring and the like are seen as 'governmentality' regimes, emphasizing rules, collective thought and practice of government. Foucauldian ideas within marketing focus largely on his concept of disciplinary power (Desmond, 2003; Kasabov, 2004) involving objectification of an individual for achieving total submission. Foucault argues, that such techniques of power, seek to produce com pliant 'docile bodies' by objectification by creation of micro-power through constant surveillance. However, fear driven external threats eventually lead to power inscribed within language and discourse i.e. within the very fabric of social structures.

We argue that the subjectivity of both consumers and employees within the context of the organization under study has been, to a large degree, defined by the discourses of CSR and CRM. These apparently provide set of norms and possible identity positions to strive for. Thus, external forms of control give way to self imposed disciplined individuals. They are encouraged to view their lives and subjectivity as a creative enterprise of their own choice i.e. subjectification. Thus, a second aspect in studies of governmentality is subjetification. Hence, power relations established through governmentality operate by impacting our subjectivity through our innermost hopes, fears and desires. Power is exercised through the 'conduct of conduct' by shaping an individuals' sense of themselves and their subjectivity which in turn shapes their conduct. Governing presupposes freedom, which is an essential element of the relationship between the government and the governed. For Foucault, power and resistance work in tandem. A key element discernable within such a view is a shift away from the way in which individuals are externally transformed by others to the way in which they transform and shape themselves (Best & Kellner, 1991: 55). The process of subjectification thus involves the appearance of technologies of domination or power to give way to emergence of 'technologies of self. These are socially constructed ways of understanding oneself through acts such as that of self observation, examination, confession practiced under the actual or imagined gaze (Foucault, 1977) of an authority figure or system of 'truth'. Truth is a moral imperative shared by a particular group. The purpose of technologies of self is to encourage individuals to relate themselves to ideal forms e.g. as an enterprising employee, an empowered consumer, a conscientious citizen.

We utilize the concepts of governmentality, disciplinary power and technologies of self to present a renewed understanding of employee and consumer empowerment. We highlight that the discourses of CRM and CSR mobilize practices to discipline employees and consumers through effect of knowledge systems exercised via governmentality. These dominant discourses inscribed within the organizational culture practices, serve to promote self-disciplined individuals, where marketers through various marketing strategies, attempt to colonize their lifeworlds. Thus by adopting a critical approach to the area of marketing within the context of an FMCG industry the study provides a useful frame for the analysis of social dynamics of marketing practice, and how it contributes to symbolic and discursive production of a market oriented culture impacting both employee and consumer subjectivity. We discuss how both employees and consumers are embedded within a web of power relations, where both producers and consumers shape and are shaped by the subject of consumption within the market. Finally, we look at some implications of state mandated provisions for CSR as per the Companies Act 2013 for organizations. We briefly elaborate and in the process contemplate upon a conventional understanding of CSR and the marketing communication surrounding it.

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)

CSR coexists with modern strategic philanthropy and corporate citizenship (CS). From a protectionist state driven mixed economy model after Independence, to economic liberalization in 1990s, we are part of the BRICS nations. The Union Carbide Bhopal tragedy together with a few other episodes globally, intensified civil society groups and international NGOs to confront business excesses in India. Some key drivers of CSR in India stem from limited resources with government to deal with socio-economic challenges, civil society pressures, greater global demand for accountability and disclosure in governance and responsible supply chain.

Vital work on CSR focused on issues in the social (Fredrick, 1960), environmental areas (Marrewijk, 2003) contributing to an ongoing debate on whether CSR and CS are mutually exclusive. Steger (2004) proposes the Business Case for Sustainability (BCS) concept a market-centric rationale for CSR by companies that operate in the "smart zone": creating "economic value by improving environmental and social performance beyond compliance". Very closely related to BCS approach is the BOP framework, advocating the economic rationale for CSR. For Prahalad & Hart (2004) involving the BOP which has a population of 4 billion people with less than $ 1 income per day can offer profitable business opportunities. Challenged by critics (Karnani, 2007; Davidson, 2009) on many grounds which are highlighted in the later part of this paper, the emancipatory potential of the CSR rhetoric within the marketing jargon is limited, guided by narrow economic concerns of its stakeholders. Thus, CSR represents an ideological movement, aimed at legitimizing and consolidating the power of corporations. By and large literature focusing on implementing CSR tends to neglect power issues. Bondy's (2008) work seems to be an exception, where empirical evidence sheds light on how some attacks use CSR to improve their position within the organization. Attention to social and environmental issues, demonstrating ethics, integrity and transparency in all operations, ensuring welfare and support of communities an organization is involved with are three rationales why corporations should engage in CSR beyond making money (Banerjee, 2007:48).

The historical backdrop and the contemporary Indian economic realities make CSR activities especially relevant today with the provisions of the Companies Act 2013 relating to CSR, now firmly in place. The 2013 Act follows a 'comply or explain' approach. As per the provisions of section 135, a company with a turnover of Rs. 1,000 crore or more, or of a net-worth of Rs 500 crore or more or reaping a net profit of Rs 5 crore or more in any financial year shall constitute a CSR committee and is required to spend at least 2% of its average net profits of the past three years on CSR activities. Further, an explanation is sought if a company is unable to do so.

Evidently, corporations' interest in doing all this is that good CSR activities lead to better financial performance. Also in case of failure on the part of corporate license for its activities will be revoked. This literature also focuses on how stakeholders are disciplined and governed to toe the corporate line. Thus, managing stakeholder interest, as we will argue, is less to do with generating knowledge for benefiting communities and more about power applied by corporation, acting as new governmental regime to produce conceding subjects or consumers. Ever since the notification of state mandated provisions for CSR as per the Companies Act 2013, important implications for companies like Nutrico ensue, as discussed later in this paper. In order to understand how CSR discourse operates, we now situate the study within the specific context of a FMCG, MNC organization, Nutrico (1) (pseudonym) with its operations in...

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