Above discussion offers great points to channel one’s thoughts on an important issue like this. Thank you to all for this. I am sharing my views below.
I think we are confusing accountability with responsibility here. Accountability is about ‘the consequence’. It is about making a particular someone pay for and/or correct the consequence of their actions. Responsibility is about checking a box, which many other are also checking. Responsibility could be shared, but accountability is not. If we get the corporates to contribute to a generic LE fund or fund an LE organisation, even through an “institutional channel”, it means the corporates are being responsible (not accountable). Being accountable is about taking localized, specific measures to correct a specific wrong. This is what the paralegals in most places are doing: they are bringing the matters to the state/judicial system and getting the state to deliver justice to them, many times the costs for these are borne by the company responsible.
We need to understand that corporates these days are putting all their energies into “looking good” than “being good”. By taking money from corporates we are helping them look good, more attractive to the investors, improving their public image, all this helps them garner more investments and cause more destruction. Yes, if we want to ‘be in business’ forever, this might be an option worth considering.
The corporates would any day like to put a plaster on a problem than having to make any fundamental changes to their operations. Also, when our paralegals and communities, push for systemic changes that draw from their experience of living the impacts and trying to resolve them, the provisions such as CSR act as barriers. Getting the state machinery to see beyond that veneer of ‘good corporates’ and acknowledge problems caused by them gets far more difficult. India’s Tata is a classic example of this.
It is a sad fact across countries that many of our funding sources, governments, foundations, individual donations are already making investments in projects of such corporates and that money eventually lands in our plates. So many of us have argued that eventually it is the corporate money that we get to do our work. But we are forgetting one fundamental difference here i.e. the mandates of these funding sources is different from the mandate of a corporate. They are not here to make money, in several countries the state is a welfare state, the government’s mandate it to ensure basic amenities and wellbeing of its citizens, foundations’ put out their mandate of aiding democracy, transparency, equality, etc. loud and clear. Individuals are only trying to make best use of their resources to better their lives and the lives of those they care for. So they can be reminded their mandates when they digress, we cannot do this with the corporates.
I agree with Marlon, that we need to build an external constituency that involves affected community. However, I feel it should be the state that creates space for this. Making corporates responsible for “public projects” absolves the state of its responsibility. This transfer of responsibility to deliver public goods and services such as legal aid from the state to corporates is problematic. It is an admission that the government has failed to do its job. Increasingly, the governments are getting unabashed about admitting their shortfalls. This is a sorry scenario. I very strongly feel that we should not contribute to the trend.
Please pardon the use of strong words at places. Sincere apologies if those hurt anyone. No such intentions there, those are only a result of my strong feelings on the topic.