Brand Building through CSR – Is it desirable?


Often there is a debate, particularly amongst the civil society players, whether it is right for corporates to use CSR for brand building. While corporates and policy makers do not see anything wrong in it. Infact some even talk of it as a win-win situation, which could lead to ‘sustainable’ CSR.

Now there is an interesting development and judicial pronouncements could add to this debate. Madras High Court has admitted a PIL for hearing whether tobacco companies should be allowed to build goodwill for their products through CSR activities. The PIL, filed by Tamil Nadu People’s Forum for Tobacco Control, alleges that since CSR activities allow companies to do brand building, tobacco companies will use CSR for earning goodwill and brand building, which they should not be allowed. The PIL suggests that such companies should be asked to deposit their CSR funds with the State / Central Govt. which can be used for specific purposes, such as anti-tobacco drives, health of tobacco affected patients, etc. Same question can be raised tomorrow against companies marketing alcoholic beverages, etc.

I believe the fundamental issue is : What is the basic objective of CSR and are the drivers of CSR in alignment with these objectives ?

Any thoughts which would add to this debate ?
Subhash Mittal
Socio Research Reform Foundation (NGO)
512 A, Deepshikha Building,
8 Rajendra Place, New Delhi – 110008.
E-mail:, website:

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10 Responses to Brand Building through CSR – Is it desirable?

  1. Udayashankar says:

    Dear Friends,
    Well, there are Government Guidelines on CSR with one schedule indicating what all can be done under CSR. If brand building is permitted, so be it. Till yesterday, majority of Companies
    have not been bothered about it. Good that a beginning is being made.
    srrf and other CSOs are making enabling efforts. If we can provide a platform for Companies to share their experiences, that would contribute to collective learning and refinement. No use taking-up cudgels against either a strategy or any Company under CSR. Government / IT Authorities will take care of non-compliance by any one. CSOs can as well use RTI and resort to Courts as per need.
    There is scope for discussion and debate as the very word guidelines indicate flexibility and non-binding nature.
    Yes, brand building under CSR does not sound a good strategy for any Company that comes under CSR and desirous of maximizing profits and safeguarding the interests of the share holders. The case of SMEs may be a bit different. Categorising Companies that come under CSR
    is required to identify which group is likely to go for brand building under CSR. Again it depends on the product(s). Companies dealing with irrigation, agricultural inputs and domestic items may think of brand building even under CSR. Demand and supply and competition also contribute to a Company’s desire to couple brand building with CSR.
    As we were discussing at srrf office, every Company is naturally interested in IMAGE building and boosting self-esteem of a Company in diverse honorable ways for which the concerned Company has to raise above brand building under CSR.

    For Ready Reference:
    National Voluntary Guidelines on Social, Environmental and Economic Responsibilities of Business -Ministry of Corporate Affairs, Govt. of India, June 2011 (pdf)
    Information on over 550 companies is available through the following urls:

  2. V.B.Chandrasekaran says:

    The best accreditation is given by the Community represented by Local Self Governing bodies and ideal Voluntary Organisations are these bodies. In the present scenario, one cannot that these are totally controlled by the upper caste and land lords but a bitter and pleasant struggle is going on for the oppressed to raise.
    These bodies are given powers and inert without wherewithal. They always look to Government for funds and the Sarpanch is a deemed subordinate of the BDO or MDO. Their getting independent less tied or untied block funds will be great solidarity to the oppressed. CSR can provide these funds and Voluntary Organisations should withdraw from their role of Public Service Contractors and entrust this to these bodies.
    May I quote The Hindu, Dated: 30th February 2008 an article captioned Situating the State in Rural India, by Sri.V.K.Nataraj, Former Director and Sri.G.S.Ganesh, Assistant Professor of Madras Institute of Development studies, Chennai…these are in fact excerpts from a study made by them to understand citizen-State matrix.

    “The state is at best a necessary evil and at worst a corrupt and inefficient system. We can easily do without it and run the country on corporate lines. This will help avoid the dirtiness of politics.”

    “Such sentiments often resonate in the air today. These are the voices of the rising middle classes and the free market brigade. For reasons unrelated to their ‘logic,’ they can claim some academic support.”

    “How do Citizen relate to State…. In the last decade and a half, panchayaths have secured constitutional status. Participation, transparency and accountability that make possible genuine democracy are now increasingly looked upon as major ingredients of good governance”

    “The Picture that emerges is the following. Panchayaths as institutions of local Government are certainly much more in the public eye today than, say, a decade or two ago. But the trajectory of development and the degree to which panchayaths are empowered, depends a good deal on the socio-political context.”

    Chatti Mahatma Gandhi Aashramam,
    Chatti Post, Chinthur Mandal, Khammam District,
    Andhra Pradesh, Pin Code: 507129.

  3. Subhash Mittal says:

    Before I respond to several very relevant views, I would like to put a correction on record, the views in my original post were posted in my individual capacity and not as secretary of SRRF. Hence these views are of mine and mine only and not of SRRF.

    Several comments provided on the topic have presented alternative views on how CSR needs to be implemented. Some views are articulated are quite noble and egalitarian which are in line with basic principles of philanthropy. However to state that funds be accumulated in a Govt kitty, I believe it is against the basic principle of CSR, which advocates involvement of corporates in undertaking CSR activities. If they are not taking a decision on where to spend, then they will soon be cut off from CSR, and would treat it more as a tax and not something that they need to promote.
    Thus involvement of corporates is very much needed to ensure that they realise what wrongs is resulting out of their commercial actions, if any. Original idea behind CSR was that corporates undo wrongs through CSR, where they find that the actions taken by them in the pursuit of their commercial profits have resulted in damage to environment, people, etc. However as legal frameworks became stronger many of the matters which were left to the discretion of the corporates impacting environment, welfare of persons have been made obligatory. Any responsibility required under law cannot be part of CSR (as stated in the CSR rules). But considering law is an evolving process, there may still be areas where law is silent. Corporates need to come in through CSR in such cases. What would be the other areas where CSR could be beneficial, it could be where a corporate sees need of inclusive development, particularly around its factories. It could be infrastructure development for water, sanitation, skill development for enhancing livelihood opportunities of people. All such activities ultimately whether you like it or not would result in image building of the corporate. Problem would be where the corporates start doing brand building of products. Although in today’s time often brands and corporates names are so synonymous, that there would be some brand-building / image-building will be inevitable.

  4. V.B.Chandrasekaran says:

    This is a crucial topic that also questions mutual credibility. Udayan Maroo has raised a provocative question…I would like to know the names of agencies/organizations which carry out due diligence to evaluate an NGO and give accreditation.( credibility alliance)/give India?

    First CSR can be or should be seen and read with Bhoodan. Unless the rich give the poor will revolt. Second… It should not be given…never to Government (Sate or Centre) but, the local self governments mainly with focus and Voluntary Organisation following the spirit of Volunteerism and is driven by Volunteers. Third> Brand building has become a reality EVIL- that we fight, overcome or manage. Let us see the havoc created because of brand building in Games!!! Ethically, like in temple hundi, it should be given with absolute TRUST but receivers should maintain meticulous accounts. Let me quote Baba Amte who thunders not to insult a Volunteer by asking accounts but in the same tone continues to quote Gandhi and says that a Good Volunteer should maintain accounts everyday for every paisa they get.
    At the outset, corporate are incompetent to spend for Social Welfare and Development and it is Voluntary Orgnisations and local governments who should.
    It is not charity nor wish but needed essential for their own survival for PEACE.
    Chatti Mahatma Gandhi Aashramam
    Chatti Post, Chinthur Mandal
    Khammam District, Andhra Pradesh
    Pin Code: 507129

  5. Sriraman PK says:

    In my view, companies should never look at CSR as either a brand building exercise or a PR or image building exercise. CSR should be understood in the right spirit. It is meant to creating equity in the society. Such equity can be created if and only if the corporates deploy the mandatory CSR funds to fund such activities, targeting the poor and the needy communities and ensure inclusive growth and sustainable development. Hence, the guiding principle of any effective CSR are: a) the programme should target to serve the needy, the poor and the marginalised as an output indicator b) inclusive growth should be the targeted outcome of the programme and c) putting the target community in the trajectory of sustainable development should be the ultimate impact of the programme.

    If a CSR strategy had to be developed as per above principles, I don’t see any possibility of bringing in issues of brand, image and PR into CSR agenda.

    In the absence of any strict monitoring mechanism of the end use, I do see merits in the points raised in the PIL and I am in favour of getting CSR funds into Government kitty to avoid it’s misuse?

    How about Government creating a regulatory body within Ministry of Company Affairs and make it mandatory for all recipients of CSR funds to file an annual return, somewhat in similar lines to FC6?


  6. Udayan Maroo says:

    Dear All,
    It’s very interesting to read views and suggestions from the members of the group.
    I would like to know the names of agencies/organizations which carry out due diligence to evaluate an NGO and give accreditation.( credibility alliance)/give India

    Best Regards.
    Udayan Maroo
    Sent from my iPhone

    • Amitabh Singhal says:

      I endorse this query from Udayan.

      It’ll be great to know if there are authentic sources from where one can obtain list/database of NGOs who have received some accreditation. I am certain that there might be many such agencies apart from Credibility Alliance who may be maintaining such databases.

      International funding agencies do find this a challenge – on verification and validation of NGOs who are really doing some real impactful work especially even at the grassroots level.

      Best regards
      Amitabh Singhal

    • V.B.Chandrasekaran says:

      In continuation and in agreement with Udayan Maroo and Amitabh Singhal…I have the following questions of introspection.
      Do we want Diligence and Probity OR Probity with Diligence or probity and desired diligence?
      At the outset, there are no agencies/organizations with grass root grip, which carry out due diligence to evaluate an NGO and give accreditation. The agencies like Credibility Alliance or Give India are more away from ground realities. They are acting very smooth. It is also a difficult job to perform from being in the sector. Depending upon your celebrity status or non celerity you are one can be marginalized, if they speak out. This should be a true collective action of hard speaking, calling a spade a spade, not going for past witch hunting, credible audit- affordability of audit to small organisations and Solidarity like trade union if one is hurt because of not giving in to bribe.
      Disturbing it is, unconsciously we lost our humanistic spirituality by most of us getting converted as NGOs instead of the pride to call ourselves as VOs and Volunteers.
      Many of us are reluctant to define Volunteerism and Who a Volunteer is? We as Voluntary Organisations have been drifted by World Bank, who wanted to induce and introduce well paid and even heavily paid professionals in our organisations. To avoid the feeling of guilt of calling ourselves as Voluntary Organisation in this context they introduced the name and concept of NGO. Our probity has fallen much because of this conversion.
      Professionalism is complimentary to Volunteerism if it helps doing an activity more efficiently but professionalism will become not only counter productive but destructive if decides the activity to be undertaken by Volunteerism.

      Chatti Mahatma Gandhi Aashramam,
      Chatti Post, Chinthur Mandal, Khammam District,
      Andhra Pradesh, Pin Code: 507129.

  7. Udayashankar says:

    Dear Friends,

    1. In our Country with rich diversity of thought and good and actionable ideas, there can’t be one model of CSR.

    Already, a few corporate groups formed consortia with windows for MNCs, both listed and unlisted, in different regions for collective action on important socio-economic issues. One such group is “siruthuli” of Coimbatore. There must be many examples. The study may classify the corporates as per process adopted / issue taken-up /coverage / vision and mission.

    2. CSR funds to any Ministry, State or Centre, what ever is the noble cause, will be of limited / fluctuating utility for obvious reasons. Chathisgarh Govt is reported to have made a proposal for CSR funds to be kept under Govt control.

    3. A majority of Corporates including SMEs are reported to be in favor of spending CSR funds within the radius of influence of their respective industries / factories and in regions where their market share is marked.

    4. Can any Industry spend CSR fund on pollution prevention / ETP / CO2 reduction?

    5. One hopes that the proposed study leads to process guidelines for participatory planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of CSR. Such guidelines go beyond mere compliance and can be referred to by one and all.

    6. one hopes that the study helps NGOs / CSOs in formulating / refining criteria for collaborating with Corporates.

    With best wishes and regards,


  8. Avinash Madhale says:

    Dear Friends,

    Possibilities for better use of CSR funds could be

    1 .Corpus fund created under Ministry of Health and Department of Health of relevant state
    2. Institutions working on Public Health and promotion anti tobacco awareness should be engaged in developing communication strategy and action plan for rehabilitation of affected individuals and their families
    3. A detailed study which will set the targets for the tobacco for reaching out to these individuals and families could be carried out from these + State and Central Govt Funds
    4. Expert NGO should push State and Central Govt to prepare list of Govt hospitals which could be fully upgraded for treatment of cancer.
    5. Revenue of State and Central Govt from the seal of Tobacco and alcohol should be added in the Corpus for setting up comprehensive treatment facilities in the List of hospitals prepared by NGO and Govts



    Avinash Madhale
    CEE Urban Programmes Group
    CEE Central Regional Cell
    A-10 Garden Estate Society, Nagras Road
    Aundh, Pune-411007

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