Global conglomerate Tata strives to make a difference


Singo Mardi’s tiny tribal village home in a remote part of southeastern India had no running water, but the family was fortunate because it did have electricity.

The young woman’s father was jobless and she had little hope for a prosperous future outside the village where women walked far each morning to fetch water and residents bathed in nearby rivers. About half of the residents of the state that encompasses Jamshedpur do not have indoor plumbing, and the practice of open defecation in neighboring fields is common and often leads to contamination of water supplies.

So when Mardi got the opportunity to apply for training sponsored by Tata Group, the global conglomerate that owns and operates multi-billion steel and auto making factories near her village, she took it. About 1,000 people apply each year for the training opportunities that typically include three years of training and housing on the school’s campus. Mardi was one of about a hundred young people accepted into the program and now is enrolled in the three-year course that is preparing her for more extensive training as a nurse.

”After I finish the three-year course, I want to be a nurse and work in a good hospital,” Mardi, now 23, said through an interpreter at a Jamshedpur cultural community center that also was built and is operated by Tata. She said she returns to her village on holidays and vacations from her studies.

Tata officials say the company takes its “corporate social responsibility,” or CSR, seriously. The nearly $100 billion company that operates more than 100 companies in 80 countries employs more than 450,000 worldwide. Among its properties is Thomas Steel Strip in Warren.

This month, Tata invited a group of U.S. journalists, including one from the Tribune Chronicle, to visit India to learn more about its operations and charitable programs.

The company has committed more than 60 percent of the equity of the holding company to philanthropic trusts. The trusts were set up by the two sons of company founder Jamsetji Tata, because they had no children to whom they could leave the family business. Nearly 100 years later, those trusts remain intact, carrying out the vision and mission of the company’s founder.

They (trusts) give away most of it within the year they receive it,” said Mukund Govind Rajan, Tata Sons brand custodian and chief ethics officer. “It’s a driving force for our company, the sense that we are serving a higher purpose. We are not working for one man or one family. What we are doing is working for the good of society.”

According to Tata Sons, the trusts in 2013 contributed more than $200 million to charitable projects around the world.

”We can’t have an island of prosperity in a sea of desperation,” said Biren Bhuta, chief of Corporate Social Responsibility for Tata Steel Limited in Jamshedpur. “I want the area around my plant to be happy, to be able to function. Otherwise, there will be unrest all the time.”

Inside a community of company housing provided for employees of Tata Motors, the automotive arm of Tata Sons, the company has built a hospital that includes a 16-bed malnutrition center in an attempt to educate mothers how to combat high rates of malnutrition that reach about 50 percent of the children younger than 3 in this area.

During a visit by journalists to the malnutrition center earlier this month, one mother held a 9-month-old child that weighed about 13 pounds. The goal, directors said, is simply to educate the mothers. The facility sees about 25 mothers each month, directors said.

Efforts by Tata’s paid Corporate Social Responsibility team focus on education, health, affirmative action and environmental needs that includes helping to provide safe drinking water to remote villages through installation of water wells.

The trusts also promote the preservation of ethnicity by helping to maintain and teach tribal music and dance, tribal languages and literature along with tribal sports.

But not all the foundations’ donations remain in India. Rajan said the trusts have given more than 300,000 books to schools and needy children across North America. They have supported healthy eating programs in Chicago and disaster relief efforts around the globe.

While the social demands locally don’t reach the same level of concern as in India, still Tata Steel Plating, which operates Warren’s Thomas Steel Strip, devotes time and effort to local causes as well.

On a recent tour of the Warren plant, company President and CEO William Boyd said the company supplies books for Ohio and Midwest reading programs for the area’s poor youth, and works closely on fundraising efforts for the Salvation Army and United Way.