V.R. Jathar is Director, Corporate Social Responsibility, at Bombay Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI). He has been associated with the organisation for the past 11 years. Prior to joining BCCI he worked as a journalist, PR executive and a management executive. Recently BCCI prepared a non-discriminatory HIV Policy for companies and Jathar was involved at all the stages of policy-making. He speaks to Naveen Kaul about the evolution of the policy.
What is your role in the organisation?
The Corporate Social Responsibility Committee was formed 10 years ago with the aim of motivating the corporate world to do some social work; to encourage social investment beyond the business of profit and loss. As a Director, I have to look into these matters.
What led BCCI to develop its HIV-friendly policy?
Realising our commitment towards corporate social responsibility (CSR), a project titled "Workforce Intervention for HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control" was undertaken in association with Avert Society, a joint project of the National Aids Control Organisation, Government of Maharashtra and the United States Agency for International Development. It was in fact Avert society which approached us to undertake a study. It was found that out of 250 members only three companies had a policy on HIV. A need assessment study was carried out among our members from July to November 2003 and the study was released on March 31, 2004. This is how the policy was born.
Moreover, it is due to the stigma attached with the disease that we felt there was an urgent need to frame a policy. Workers affected with HIV often do not feel able to speak about their problems to anyone. So it becomes necessary on our part to intervene.
Are you aware of any cases of discrimination against HIV positive workers?
Yes, there are many cases. But unless our clients give their consent, we can't discuss those cases with anyone. A high level of confidentiality is maintained.
How will workers in Mumbai benefit from your non-discriminatory policy?
Interventions can be carried out in two ways. The first is to collaborate with workers and then ask them to reach out to the management. The second is to sensitise the management and let them reach out to their workers. We chose the second option to ensure that benefits reach workers. In some cases we also took the Unions into confidence, as it was necessary to make them aware. We are also advocating insurance cover for people with HIV.
How prevalent do you feel is HIV in the Indian workforce?
HIV is a growing problem throughout India though I can't give you any figures. Various studies carried out by organisations claim there are 4 million HIV affected people in India but no studies have been carried out on the HIV workforce.
What sort of an effect is the spread of HIV and AIDS having on industry in Mumbai?
Most of the workers employed in industries are between 19 and 45 years old. This is the most productive age group. Most of the people affected with HIV fall into this age group. Therefore it is the most productive segment of the labour force that is affected. Then there are cases of discrimination, which threaten the fundamental principles and rights of workers.
Do you think the problem is worse in Mumbai than in other urban areas?
Why speak of only urban areas? This problem is more severe in the rural belts of Sangli, Satara, etc. But definitely the problem is more severe in Mumbai than other urban parts of India. This is because there are people from every state and region in Mumbai who come here in search of employment. As there is a housing problem in Mumbai, these workers can't bring their spouses with them. Thus they are more likely to indulge in risky behaviour and this adds to the problem.
Have any other Chambers of Commerce in India taken similar steps to protect the rights of HIV positive workers?
No other chamber in India has framed such a policy. Ours is the pioneering work on the issue.
How do you plan to promote/publicise the policy?
We will reach out to each industry and sensitise the management about the issue. We have decided to appoint a team of two social workers, two counsellors, one medical officer and one assistant project coordinator to take the objectives of policy ahead. These people will train at least one person from each company about HIV so that they become instrumental in spreading the policy.
What steps can the BCCI take to ensure that companies comply with the policy?
We can't force companies to comply with our policy. But we can sensitise management and we think this will pave the way ahead. If the management is enlightened enough to understand the need of framing such a policy, they will be more likely to comply.