Saturday, February 11, 2012

En route to the Taj

In honor of my forthcoming trip to Mumbai in India this week for the World HRD Congress, where I will be presenting on one of my favorite subjects, CSR for HR, and attending the World CSR Day ceremonies as a panelist on the subject of CSR- TheWay Forward, chaired by Dr Baskhar Chatterjee, the Director General and CEO of the Indian Institute of Corporate Affairs, I thought I would take a look at the Sustainability Report of the Taj Hotels, as I will be staying at the Taj Lands End. (I have fond memories of staying at the Taj Mahal Palace several years ago, so I have high expectations!- the Taj Mahal, as you may recall, made headlines in 2008 as the site of a brutal terrorist attack in which 175 people lost their lives, and the staff was subsequently commended for outstanding service beyond the call of duty, protecting guests and remaining loyal to their employer. Terror at the Taj has even become an HBS case study. Following the terror attack, the India Hotels Company set up the Taj Public Service Welfare Trust to assist the families affected).

The Taj Hotel Group recently released its eighth Sustainability Report, entitled "Beyond the Numbers". Beyond The Numbers is a way of expressing, for the Indian Hotels Company, owner of the Taj Hotel and other hotel brands, that doing business with CSR at the core is what defines the company as an organization and shapes its journey in responsible tourism by influencing every life that it touches.  The Indian Hotels Company is the largest hotel chain in South Asia, with a portfolio of 107 hotels and 12,795 rooms across 12 countries on 5 continents, selling almost 3 million room nights per year. The Company is owned by the Tata Group, one of the highly respected names in Indian industry.

The report is GRI Application Level A+, 88 pages long, with a clever design and a personal, inviting style. Each section begins with an anecdote or almost poetic story, such as how the turtle retreats to its shell for safety, as an introduction to the safety section, or the way workers spent hours fuelling a furnace or 12 hours bending over a conveyor in former times, as the backdrop to the section on how India Hotels is a great workplace, dating back to 1912 when the Tata Group introduced 8 hour shifts, the precursor to a productive work-life balance approach for employees.

This is a thorough report covering governance, compliance and risk management, with a discussion of key risks. The report does not contain a Materiality Matrix, but it does cover stakeholder engagement and offers a list of priority issues:
• Optimizing revenues
• Focusing on customer delight
• Ensuring safety
• Developing human capital
• Ensuring environmental excellence
• Creating sustainable livelihoods

The Indian Hotels Company places a strong focus on environmental protection and records energy, GHG emissions and water consumption per hotel room per night. It is interesting to note the gap between the luxury segment (with 202 kh CO2e emissions per night) and the lower-cost hotel options (18 kg CO2e emissions at the lower end). 23 hotels are ISO14001 certified. The group maintains a "War on Waste" with 16% of hotel organic waste being composted, and much of other types of waste are recycled. 3% of the Company's energy needs are met through renewable sources and 25% of water consumption is recycled water, with several hotels achieving zero water discharge.

Oddly, one thing I might have expected to read in this report does not gain air time: the whole question of human rights, child labor, human trafficking, prostitution and child sex exploitation. Just recently I caught a headline "Sex racket out of star hotels in Tamil Nadu busted", referring to arrests of pimps using local hotels to conduct their dealings. An internet report states that there are "estimated to be over 900,000 sex workers in India. 30% are believed to be children and that the number of children involved in prostitution is increasing at an estimated 8 to10% per annum. About 15% of the prostitutes in Mumbai, Delhi, Madras, Calcutta, Hyderabad and Bangalore are children and nearly half of them became commercial sex workers when they were minors. Conservative estimates state that around 300 000 children in India are suffering commercial sexual abuse."

One thing a responsible tourism player in India could do would be to become a signatory of The and establish a specific ethical code and policy regarding commercial exploitation of children, institute other measures to prevent such issues and report fully about the procedures in place. While the hotel and tourism industry may not be responsible for these issues, they certainly can be part of a solution which raises awareness, educates and ensures there is no degree of complicity in any of their activities.

In the meantime, I look forward to returning to India. It's been a while since I tasted Indian ice-cream :)

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices  Contact me via  on Twitter or via my business website  (BeyondBusiness, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm)

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