What are the Major Challenges to Progress?
Global challenges such as climate change, water scarcity, poverty and gender inequality in addition to the recent pandemic have created innumerable barriers to progress. The effects of climate change are becoming more and more evident every passing day. Water scarcity is no longer restricted to drought prone regions in states like Maharashtra (India), or India, but has become a global issue with 18.4% of the world’s water resources under duress.[i]
Poverty which had reduced significantly from 1990 to 2015,[ii] saw the steepest downward spiral bringing it to an all-time high in 2020. The enormity of these issues needs collective action; that of individuals, governments and corporates. Today, even investors are increasingly evaluating companies’ performance on ESG. Corporates, have a unique advantage to facilitate meaningful, sustainable and tangible change across their often national and global value chain.
However, for ESG to truly be transformative, it needs to be ingrained into a corporate’s DNA – right from leadership to contract labour and across its entire value chain. It’s not about only green manufacturing, but proactive action on issues plaguing the world, uplifting communities and ensuring human rights practices are not violated even to the smallest degree. It governs how ethical a corporate is and thus transparency of operations and disclosures.
Companies earlier focused on social or environmental aspects that fell under CSR. Today, however, they have become more conscious of ensuring aspects like carbon neutrality, human rights, anti-corruption, sustainable manufacturing and fair labour receive equal focus in their operations as well as across their value chains. Additionally, businesses have realised that action towards ESG has to be driven through a synergistic approach across a business, its value chain as well as in communities. This approach has to be a key facet in an organization’s value creation model.
Role of United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
Pivotal to achieving this synergy are the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the UN Global Compact’s Ten Principles. Each of them not only has the exclusive ability to touch upon various developmental aspects mitigating global challenges, but also gives clear direction and guidance to several nuances under ESG that need to be looked at meticulously.
As a signatory to the UN Global Compact (UNGC), STL has since 2018 proactively embraced it’s ten principles on Human Rights, Fair Labour Practices, Anti-Corruption and Environment Conservation as well as aligned its operations and social impact programmes with 15 of the 17 UN SDGs. The organisation’s performance on these aspects are published annually for stakeholder scrutiny, not only as part of this Annual Report, but also as part of the UNGC’s Communication on Progress framework, alongside the snapshot of its adherence to the UNSDGs.
How ESG is Embedded into STL’s DNA?
At STL, ESG is not limited to just its own operations. It extends across the Company’s entire value chain and incorporates how raw materials are sourced, how products are designed; it ensures partner adherence to ESG practices STL abides by, waste management, minimising emissions from manufacturing, storage, transportation, uplifting communities, and ultimately ensuring customers and end-users are able to use green products and services that help create a more connected world.
Human Rights & Fair Labour Practices
While responsible operations are important, at STL we believe it is also essential to ensure that communities we operate in progress along with us. Hence, STL has integrated its community outreach programmes as a part of organisation’s ethos to address national priorities as well as universal agendas such as the SDGs.
To make basic human rights accessible to needy communities, STL has leveraged technology to provide over 796,000 children and teachers with quality learning interventions across rural, semi-urban areas in Maharashtra, Silvassa and Rajasthan. T Through its healthcare programmes, STL has ensured over 220,000 individuals in rural India can access quality healthcare at their doorsteps.
In 2014, STL launched the Jeewan Jyoti Women Empowerment programme which has till date empowered more than 2,200 women. To ensure women across age-groups are empowered, the programme offers them certified vocational training courses, supports on setting up their business enterprises, self-help groups, micro-financing and micro livelihood programmes that help them lead change in their communities.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, STL provided PPE kits, N95 masks, ventilators, and other essential items, impacting over 1,00,000 lives across 20 locations. It also leveraged digital platforms to spread the message of hygiene and rules to follow to stay safe.
With a dedication to ensuring adherence to Human Rights across the value chain, STL also ensures business partner compliance to a code of conduct and STL’s Human Rights Policy. These mechanisms guarantee transparency, regulatory compliance, grievance redressal, diversity, inclusion and employee health and safety of personnel up and down stream STL’s value chain. The Company has zero tolerance towards forced and child labour practices and promotes fair labour standards, workforce diversity, gender equality, fair compensation and skill development for its employees. It’s Human Rights policy guides on adherence to labour standards pertaining to working hours, conditions, wages and overtime pay. Further, it ensures fair compensation, opportunity to improve skills and capabilities, safe and healthy working conditions, diversity and equal opportunity and non-discrimination.
Equal importance is also given to grievance redressal mechanisms through a Whistle Blower Policy that helps STL contain misconduct, corruption or illegal acts like extortion or bribery. An uncompromising Prevention of Sexual Harassment (POSH) policy is adopted towards the issue government by a POSH committee in alignment with the Act.
The Company also ensures adherence to International Labour Organisation standards across its locations and this is evident from the fact that STL received zero complaints on child labour/forced labour/involuntary labour and discriminatory labour and zero stakeholder complaints related to human rights.
While climate change is one of the most challenging issues of our time, various other national and global priorities also contribute to aggravating it further. This includes waste generation, landfilling and overuse of resources. To help mitigate these issues, STL has adopted a circular economic model and a cradle-to-grave approach to manufacturing, underscored by a robust Zero Waste to Landfill (ZWL) strategy. This is further reinforced through sustainable sourcing and moving toward water positivity.
The Company also works with suppliers and waste buyers to advance their capabilities and implement new and innovative technologies that reduce our environmental impact. This also extends to ensuring suppliers adhere to STL’s ESG practices on which they are reviewed. The Company is committed towards designing and delivering eco-friendly products and has completed Life Cycle Assessments for 10 optic fibre cable families till date. Governed by a stringent quality control policy, STL sources and produces eco-friendly products that are durable as well.
STL has adopted comprehensive environmental policies and monitoring systems that address recycling and reusing water at its manufacturing units. STL has invested in rainwater harvesting, effluent and sewage treatment plants and other equipment across its manufacturing units in India. This has helped STL recycle 3,45,274 m3 water till date. Through its Zero Waste to Landfill programme, the Company has diverted over 135,000 MT of waste from landfills ensuring 97% of this diverted waste is either reused or co-processed. 2,900+ MT of byproducts generated during manufacturing have been repurposed over the last year and 7,600+ tCO2e were avoided through energy conservation measures.
An estimated $2.6 trillion globally is siphoned through bribes, exaggerated budgets, legal and other unauthorized expenses. Such actions weaken public confidence in corporations and takes resources from emerging economies that need the funds to mitigate poverty and other social problems.[iii]
At STL, the importance of anti-corruption, antitrust and anti-bribery is reiterated to every employee and partner right from the start. The Code of Conduct and Business Ethics policy of the Company covers the Company as well as its subsidiaries. The Company’s supply chain partners are covered under Supply Chain Management policy, which includes principles on conducting business transactions with a high level of ethics, transparency and integrity.
A whistleblower grievance mechanism is also in place to allow partners and employees to raise any cases of corruption, bribery, extortion and others to the Company’s attention.
And to build on this further, STL has committed to ambitious ESG Goals it aims to achieve over the next five to ten years. These include; transforming everyday living for 5 million lives, replenishing 5 million m3 of water in communities and undertaking 5 million plantations by 2025; and by 2030 aiming at water positivity, carbon emissions reduction, sustainable sourcing, 100% life cycle assessments for product families, 100% of STL’s manufacturing units to be Zero Waste to Landfill certified. The progress of all of these actions are meticulously recorded through our ESG and Business Responsibility Report which form part of the Company’s Annual Report. In addition to this, STL also files its Communication on Progress on the UNGC 10 principles and UN Sustainable Development Goals on the UN Global Compact website annually. This commitment further demonstrates the transparency and rigor of STL in achieving and communicating its ESG performance, in line with global reporting frameworks such as GRI.
To access STL’s UN Communication on Progress, Click Here
[i] “Progress on Level of Water Stress – 2021 Update”, SDG6 Progress Report, United Nations
[ii] Poverty and Shared Prosperity 2020, World Bank Report
[iii] “Anti-corruption as Strategic CSR: A call to action for corporations”