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Profit Knows No Caste

By Chandrabhan Prasad

16 September, 2004
The Pioneer

On September 3, a premier industrial organisation held a Press conference in Delhi. It wished to convey the industry's views on job reservation in the private sector. Expectedly, the spokesperson opposed the Government's move. That is fine. After all, it's a democracy. In the same way as Dalits have a right to seek democratisation of the Indian market and society, the market leaders too have a right to oppose it. But, one expects the debating parties to at least respect merit in their arguments.

The industry's Press note termed "private sector job reservation" as "anti-industrialisation". Well, we do not know the basis for that conclusion. Is there any scientific evidence, a study establishing that the "presence of Dalit engineers, scientists, managers causes industry to collapse"? But, let's still grant the private sector its opinion, howsoever condemnable. After all, democracy has space for abusers as well.

But, what was more stunning was the Press note insisting that "nowhere in the world is there reservation in the private sector". Now we don't know if the private sector includes the US in its jurisdiction of the "world"?

It is a fact that American companies don't practice "Reservations" for African Americans or other ethnic minorities. But they do have a public policy doctrine, "Diversity", - which is much bigger in scope, intensity, and impact than the Indian "reservations". While "reservations" are limited only to jobs, "Diversity" requires African-Americans, native Americans, Hispanics, Asians etc.- together termed "minorities" - to reflect in the same proportion in all walks of American life as they do in the American population. Take the case of General Motors, popular as GM, the world's largest manufacturer of vehicles.

The GM, with a revenue worth $ 185.52 billion, has a department of Diversity, which reveals details of its racial/ethnic workforce composition. By 2000, the minorities comprised 23 per cent of the workforce: 19.2 per cent in the managerial category, 17.6 per cent in Engineering, and 16.3 per cent in marketing. Minorities are about 27 per cent in the US.

The GM practices supplier diversity too. In 2003, the company purchased goods and services worth US $7.2 billion from minority suppliers - $1 billion more than the previous year. The GM makes it mandatory that the bigger supplier to the company - often White -purchased some of their supplies from smaller minority suppliers. For instance, the Johnson Controls Inc., a major auto parts supplier to GM, purchased goods and services worth $1 billion last year. Under its dealership diversity, by 1999, GM had 320 minority suppliers, with sales of $9.5 billion per year. Needless to say, GM supports minority welfare programmes too.

For its Diversity agenda, GM has tied up with many minority organisations, who recommend it candidates. Minority business bodies supply it goods and services.

The GM's Diversity department also holds job fairs in minority-run educational institutions, and "on the spot recruitments" are part of the Diversity drive.

In the light of this, let's assume the organisation of Dalit industrialists places the private sector's Press note as an ad in the American newspapers, captioning it: "Look at the Indian bourgeoisie's notion about the World". Imagine the American public's perception about the Indian bourgeoisie to that.

The Indian industry must start believing in the grammar of business. Businesses exist for profit, which are possible only with quality and competitive pricing of products. That is possible only when the workforce is drawn from several competing social categories. Hundreds of Dalit civil servants are selected through reservations. And in almost every State, if five IAS/IPS officers are extolled for their excellence, at least two of them are Dalits.

This is because of the amount of idealism among Dalits. Non-Dalits tend to lack idealism, and hence, often underperform. It is this great sociological phenomenon that the American companies harness. The GM seeks Black talent, and gets it in plenty. Three decades back, Black talent seemed absent, since no one sought it.

The Indian industry should free itself from "caste interest", and democratise its workforce. It is in the private sector's interest to earn more. If a Dalit engineer creates more value, then the industry must prefer Dalits to non-Dalits. It should learn from GM, which shows the way to make the best vehicles, huge profits, and also a great nation.






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