Negotiating the Terms of a New Social Contract: Private Companies, Civil Society and the State in India

The post-interventionist development strategy adopted by the Indian government from mid-1980s onwards has led to an increased contribution of private companies to the country’s economic growth. However, the benefits of the growth momentum are very unequally shared, at a time when social and environmental externalities weigh heavily on Indian society. In reaction to the state’s policies that seek to loosen social and environmental regulatory constraints, which presumably act as impediments to private investments, numerous civil society organizations are multiplying their efforts to improve the social behaviour of companies. They also advocate more balanced public policies, so as to protect affected social groups and preserve the environment in a more effective fashion. In this context, private companies operating in India are revising their strategies and practices in the field of CSR (corporate social responsibility), in order to promote their social legitimacy and preserve the investor-friendly attitude of public authorities. Based on a vast array of primary and secondary data, including qualitative interviews both at the national and local levels, this paper offers a detailed analysis of the stakes and dynamics at play in the public, civil and self-regulation of companies in India. With the rapid growth and modernization of the country as the backdrop, this paper points towards a reconfiguration of relationships and the balance of power among market players, the state and civil society organizations.

Keywords: Corporate Social Responsibility, social and environmental regulation of companies, civil society, State in India