Are companies aware of the many overt and covert ways in which discrimination can happen at the workplace or during the time of recruitment? In July 2011, the Ministry of Corporate Affairs came up with guidelines for business to follow. Providing and maintaining “equal opportunities at the time of recruitment as well as during employment, irrespective of caste, creed, gender, race, religion, disability or sexual orientation” was one of the hallmarks for businesses when it came to fulfilling their social responsibilities.
Non-discrimination at the workplace is far from reality. The India Responsible Business Index (IRBI) 2018, released recently assesses and ranks the top 99 BSE-listed companies on five parameters. Non-discrimination at the workplace is prime among them. The IRBI index reveals 24 companies did not disclose their commitment to non-discrimination as part of their recruitment processes in the public domain.
A total of 75 companies on the index mention these principles when it comes to recruitment policies. While a quarter of the companies do not, what is of further concern is that only half of the companies that did disclose actually have systems and mechanisms in place to ensure non-discrimination/equal opportunity.
“Non-discrimination as a business practice has a special relevance in the context that discrimination is incompatible with human dignity, equality, human rights and justice in particular,” Karandeep Bhagat from Centre for Social Equity and Inclusion said.
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The number of companies ensuring non-discrimination and equal opportunity goes down to 42 when it comes to career advancement. On skill development opportunities provided to employees, 44 companies do not have a policy for permanent women employees; 61 do not have one for people with disabilities and 81 companies made no public disclosures if their workplace is disabled friendly.
While the Companies Act (2013) and Security Exchange Board of India (SEBI) regulations of listed companies has ensured there is a full disclosure on the number of women board members, there is no disclosure on board diversity for other marginalised identities. Only 27 companies disclosed policies on non-discrimination and equal opportunities in these higher positions. Merely seven disclosed whether they had mechanisms in place to ensure diversity in the Board.
From identifying most vulnerable communities prone to prejudice to determining how accessible the workspaces are, the report also ranks companies on how they treat vulnerable groups . The index found that about half the companies consider, women, religious minorities, people from the Scheduled Castes, and people with disabilities as vulnerable identities. Of the 99 companies analysed, only 18 identified Scheduled Tribes as a group vulnerable to discrimination, just 32 identified sexual minorities as one.
“Due to the Prevention of the Atrocities Act (POA), 2017 businesses often refrain from employing persons from SC/ ST communities, to avoid adhering and complying to mandatory legal provisions,” Bhagat adds.
Since the first step to eradicate discrimination is to be able to identify biases, the findings do not paint a promising picture for those who identify themselves as sexual or gender minorities or other vulnerable groups. While 96 companies disclosed the number of women employees in their workplace, only 15 companies disclosed numbers of SC and ST employees.
When it comes to maternity benefits, almost two-thirds of the companies do not have policies disclosed on the same. These include 12 PSUs.
SEXUAL HARASSMENT AT WORKPLACE
The year 2017 was a watershed moment when it came to reports against sexual harassment, worldwide. In their 2017 report, SEBI reported a 12 per cent increase in Prevention of Sexual Harassment (POSH) related cases. A far more disturbing trend as the IRBI report says is the “proximity of offenders to victims”. About 35 per cent attempts of women abuse have been reported from workplaces or related business spaces. “This rising trend in workspace related cases reflects the discriminatory and exploitative mindset that exists against women, ” the reports adds
In January this year, the Supreme Court asked central and state governments for a response to a petition that sought implementation of the law against sexual harassment of women at workplaces. Most companies on the index have disclosed policies and systems to address sexual harassment, there are still 4 companies that have not. None of the companies, however, have a policy to consult stakeholders while formulating policies on sexual harassment.
Among the companies covered by the IRBI report, all of them said they had records on the number of sexual harassments complaints received. While 47 companies reported zero cases, companies like Infosys, ICICI, Wipro and TCS have reported more than 50 cases in 2017.
While the IRBI report indicates there has been a marginal overall improvement making the workplace inclusive and truly non-discriminatory is still not a priority for businesses.
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