Routine Activity Theory Implications on Increasing Crime Rate in Indian Society

Cohen and Folsen’s Routine Activity Theory of Crime, appeals to me at an intellectual level to understand the increasing rate of crime in Indian society. However, it contradicts my personal philosophy about human beings. The theory presumes that every human being basically has a criminal tendency and is capable of crime. I believe that human beings are inherently good and each human being irrespective of the crimes they have committed is capable of good deeds. Hence, I will try to discuss the theory without bias and balance the two opposing views. If I sound partial towards my philosophy, then forgive me from the goodness of your heart.

1.      Introduction

The theory was based on analysis of US crime data of 1947-1974. During this period the average income of families increased, number of people below poverty line decreased, education levels improved, and unemployment levels decreased. However, the rate of violent crime in urban areas   increased – rape (174%), assault (164%), robbery (263%) and homicide (188%).

The Indian urban society is showing similar trends since liberalization in 1990s. While growth, income, economy, facilities, education etc. has significantly improved in urban areas, the rate of crime has increased exponentially. Before, in 1960s and 1970s, others would ostracize a middle class person if he were publicly involved in criminal activity. Now, nearly every second person is involved in a corrupt and unethical activity openly. Though we blame it on deteriorating social values, this theory helps us understand why we compromise the values and participate in a crime.

2.      Concept

The theory states that “structural changes in routine activity patterns can influence crime rates by affecting the convergence in space and time of three minimal elements of direct contact predatory violations: (1) motivated offenders, (2) suitable targets, and (3) the absence of capable guardians against a violation”. Lack of any one of these reduces crime. However, the level of control exercised by the guardians has a direct impact on crime. Even if motivated offenders and suitable targets remain the same, if control reduces, crime increases. The theory states that income of the offender does not have any impact on his desire to commit crime and contradicts the popular notion that people with less income have a higher propensity to commit crime.

Source: Wikepedia

Now this can be understood in Indian context. The number of people living away from their traditional homeland has increased as more people are living in nuclear families or as singles in different cities. The change in social behavior has changed the routine activity of people as social controls of family and community have decreased. These aspects reduce the worry of motivated offenders on how their community will judge them if they participate in unethical behavior. Secondly, the same aspect makes suitable targets more vulnerable to crime as protective layers have reduced. Hence, due to this changing social structure, motivated offenders and suitable targets have both increased. With it, the corruption in law enforcement agencies has reduced control. The sum total of it all has increased the crime rates in Indian urban areas.

3.      Effect

Then the theory states that motivated offenders cooperate to strengthen their efficiency in criminal activities. On the other hand, the potential victims join hands to gain collective strength to protect themselves from the attack. The challenge becomes bigger for potential victims when high-net worth individuals undertake criminal activities. The potential victims risk of victimization increases.

From the Indian context, the driver for change in social values has been the thirst for money and power. The higher level of ambition for being powerful and materialistically successful has motivated people to break the traditional social norms and move towards corruption and crime. Previously, the lack of a good criminal justice system was compensated by strict controls from family and community. Now all the three guardians have decreased control and the value of rewards gained from criminal activity is high. The other factor to consider is that voluntary help groups and social support groups are less in India; hence, the potential victims do not get the desired protection. As Cohen said – “it is ironic that the very factors which increase an opportunity to enjoy the benefits of life may also increase the opportunities for predatory violations”. Crime has become the by-product of freedom and prosperity as it has enmeshed itself in routine activities of daily life in Indian urban society.

Closing Thoughts

My personal belief is that for every action, especially criminal or unethical activity, a person needs to ask whether they need to involve themselves in it. When one accepts rewards for the wrong reasons, one cannot avoid punishment for the wrong reasons also. Hence, why go for the wrong rewards in the first place; and if one has received them, why not return them? When one is in a financially strong position and survival does not depend on income from criminal activity, why not refuse to undertake that activity. No one can involve another in a criminal activity if the participants do not wish for any monetary benefits. Hence, to enjoy the benefits of life, say no to crime and unethical activities.

References:

Routine activity theory – Crime Prevention Division – By Cohen and Folsen

 

Impact of Power Styles on Organization Risks

Power, we all want it. If we don’t have it, we associate with the powerful in the hope some of it rubs down to us. Being in the upper echelons of corporate world or the political corridors of the country’s parliamentary houses ensures that you are exempt from the rules applicable to the common person.

However, the way a person gets power and uses it reflects the person’s character, and its influence on others. In the corporate world, the power styles used by senior managers directly influence the risk levels of the organization. Unsurprisingly,  power and politics are undiscussable topics in the corporate world; hence, when risk managers do risk assessments, they ignore the two.

I personally recommend risk managers to understand the individual power styles of the senior managers and overall organization power style. To appreciate the connection between power and risk, let us first look at the power styles and their impact on the organization.

Power Sttyles

Depending on the situation, a leader needs to use various power styles. However, if a leader uses coercive style even when it is not required, then something is wrong. Leaders frequently use power styles of reward and punishment for fulfilling illegitimate requirements. Hence, the probability of followers being involved in unethical activities requiring compromise of personal values is higher. On the other hand, the expert style ensures that followers make informed judgments as the leader attempts to enhance their ethical values and knowledge level. The reward is not in the form of a bribe and is implicit; the leader is dedicated to improving the organization.

Another aspect that requires understanding is the need for creating perception of power. When a leader is undertaking illegitimate activities (watch any Hindi movie to see the underworld Don) he needs to create a strong perception of power by using threat and punishment. Else, his coercive tactics will be ineffective, as people will not cooperate. Therefore, he makes some sacrificial goats to demonstrate that he is above the law and normal rules don’t apply to him. Another tactic is to break the social norms, and not behave rationally and predictably. Both these methods focus on creating fear to ensure compliance. Without the perception of power and fear, the leader becomes vulnerable to revolt from the common person. The only way for him to retain his power is by increasing the number of sacrificial goats, threats, and punishments.

1.   Impact on Legal and Reputation Risks

A coercive leader is usually riding a tiger. The organization risks continue multiplying as more and more people become aware of the unethical practices. An elastic can be stretched up to a limit. Eventually, the concocted environment cocoon will burst and all hell will break loose. The leader cannot trust anyone after a point. Hence, his fear increases in direct proportion to his vulnerability. The leader takes more and more risks to protect his personal fiefdom. The organizations reputation risks and legal risks increase proportionately.

2.   Impact on Human Resource Risks

Overtime, the leader’s charisma wears off. As the layers peel off, disillusion sets in. Employees realize that the leader doesn’t behave with integrity and honesty. Even the loyalists recognize that whenever it suits the leader’s personal agenda, they can face the bullet without any fault of their own. This creates disquiet among employees, and employee disengagement increases. The human resource risks increase manifold with disengaged employees.

3.   Impact on Operational and Financial Risks

The disengagement starts effecting productivity and performance as everyone grasps that meritocracy has no links with rewards. This in turn impacts the bottom line as leader fails to deliver on targets. Failure to show profitability and results makes the leader’s position precarious. The leader starts feeling pressure from the top. As he is unable to improve productivity, he attempts to manipulate results and financial statements. In nutshell, leader’s power style influences operational risks and financial risks of the organization.

Closing Thoughts

No one can deny that success in life depends quite significantly on a person’s power and influence. The general opinion is that means to the end do not matter when we strive for power. On the contrary, how we get power and maintain power, is crucial for longevity in the powerful position. For a coercive leader, the end is tragic, as the hunter becomes the hunted. Moreover, if a leader gets power by paying bribes or giving rewards, his power ends when he stops doing so. His loyalists disappear with speed. Abusing power is no longer safe in the present world, as it increases the personal risks of the leader and the organization risks. Therefore, risk managers need to ensure for continued prosperity of the organization, that leaders get power by the rights means and use it for the right purposes.

Satyagraha For Freedom From Corruption

Gandhi ji, in his book “History of Satyagraha in South Africa” narrates the coinage of the term Satyagraha and the journey of the movement. It is an amazing story of sacrifice, determination, and moral courage. Hence, I wondered whether we can use the concept to fight corruption in this century.

The irony is that Gandhi ji started the Satygraha movement in South Africa because Europeans passed unfavourable laws for Indians. They were scared of Indian traders and professionals taking a huge slice of the business, hence passed laws to restrict their liberty to live and trade freely. Greed was at the crux of it since there were plenty of natural resources in South Africa for Europeans, Blacks, and Indians. Now India is being destroyed by the greed of its leaders and public.

Gandhi ji’s story stands in stark contrast to the Anna Hazare led fight against corruption. Hazare’s was packaged as Gandhian inspired struggle but as results showed it was far from it. Hazare took the stance of my way and high way on the Lokpal Bill, whereas Gandhi ji believed in negotiation. Moreover, Hazare’s was a publicity driven exercise of a few fasts and he quickly distanced himself from it when he faced failure. Another aspect was that though thousands turned up in support at the initial stage, no one made use of that energy constructively and directed people to do something more than shout slogans on the streets. Hence, the euphoria disappeared after a short while, as the educated middle class needed an action plan to maintain their commitment.

It brings back to our understanding of Satyagraha. We generally confuse it with “passive resistance” and it was the same situation when Gandhi ji developed the concept a century back. Below are few points from the book:

1)      Satyagraha

Gandhi ji considered Satyagraha as a soul-force. The Satyagrahies never used physical force even when they had the capability for it. In Gandhi ji’s word – “Satyagraha is soul-force pure and simple, and whenever and to whatever extent there is room for the use of arms or physical force or brute force, there and to that extent is there so much less possibility for soul-force. These are purely antagonistic forces in my view, and I had full realization of this antagonism even at the time of the advent of Satyagraha

2)     Passive resistance

The term “passive resistance” originated in Europe as a weapon of the weak. It was generally used when other options of fighting were not available. It was a method used by people without voting rights, or lacking public support. The people were not averse to using arms for attaining their goals. But they did not go for it because they didn’t think they would succeed with it. Hence, passive resistance was more of a strategic manoeuvre than commitment to non-violence.

3)    Difference between the two

Gandhi ji described the fundamental difference in the concepts in the following paragraphs -

 “The power of suggestion is such that a man at last becomes what he believes himself to be. If we continue to believe ourselves and let others believe that we are weak and therefore offer passive resistance, our resistance will never make us strong, and at the earliest opportunity we will give up passive resistance as a weapon of the weak.

 On the other hand if we are satyagrahis and offer satyagraha believing ourselves to be strong, two clear consequences result from it. Fostering the idea of strength, we grow stronger and stronger every day. With the increase in our strength, our satyagraha too becomes more effective and we would never be casting about for an opportunity to give it up.

 Again, there is no scope for love in passive resistance; on the other hand, not only has hatred no place in satyagraha, but it is a positive breach of its ruling principle. While in passive resistance there is a scope for the use of  arms when a suitable occasion arrives, in satyagraha physical force is forbidden even in the most favourable circumstances. Passive resistance is often looked upon as a preparation for the use of force while satyagraha can never be utilized as such. Passive resistance may be offered side by side with the use of arms. Satyagraha and brute force, being each a negation of the other, can never go together.

 Satyagraha may be offered to one’s nearest and dearest; passive resistance can never be offered to them unless of course they have ceased to be dear and become an object of hatred to us.

 In passive resistance there is always present an idea of harassing the other party and there is a simultaneous readiness to undergo any hardships entailed upon us by such activity; while in satyagraha there is not the remotest idea of injuring the opponent. Satyagraha postulates the conquest of the adversary by suffering in one’s own person.”

 4)    Freedom From Corruption

Considering the above definition of Satyagraha and the differences highlighted by Gandhi ji, I haven’t seen very many noteworthy cases of mass movement of Satyagraha. Hazare’s movement just entailed short-term sacrifice and not a long-term struggle. When the public disappeared so did he.

The Satyagrahies courted prison and lived a simple life to fight for their cause. Hence, the question is that do we lack commitment and determination for long-term struggle to root out wrong habits. Is it possible and realistic to expect people to make these sacrifices in the present age of instant gratification. Can we expect Indian public to take a vow not to take or give bribes and kickbacks? Will it be expecting too much from the citizens to sacrifice a few luxuries. Will the public stay committed to the cause or leave it when it gets bored, to participate in the next novel thing.

We need to seriously think of eradicating corruption on this Independence Day. India has come a long way in one century but the corruption is eroding its sheen and destroying the country from within. We must not forget the sacrifices a whole generation of Indians made to ensure that the next generations live with freedom. Let us pledge to keep our souls free of greed.

Wishing all Indians a Very Happy Independence Day.

References:

History of Satyagraha in South Africa by M.K. Gandhi 

The Money Worshipers

money worshiper

The Global Index of Religion and Atheism Report 2012 results indicate that just 59 percent of world population was religious last year. Even India, the land of prayers and spirituality is showing a declining trend in belief in God. In 2005, 87% Indians believed in religion. While in 2012, 81% Indians declared themselves religious.

In Indian society,  the focus has shifted on earning money in the last decade. Money has become the new God.

The belief is that money makes one happy, though psychological studies show it is an open question. Some studies show that money does contribute to happiness; some show that beyond a point, money doesn’t add anything to happiness quotient. On the other hand, the law of diminishing returns applies to money as well. Nassim Taleb analysed that after a certain point, the pleasure in earning more money is less than the fear of losing it.

I don’t have the answer to whether money makes a person happier. Yes, it does provide a whole lot of comforts. But beyond that, there are others aspects of life that contribute to happiness. So the question is why we see more people willing to compromise their morals for the sake of money. One hears often this explanation from a person who is compromising morals for money – “You know the world has changed. What to do?” Basically, they are saying – “I have changed and I want to blame my greed on the society rather than take individual responsibility”. We want to avoid analyzing our thoughts and motives deeply, because we will get very unpleasant answers about ourselves.

A joke really sums up these thoughts – A man bought a new Mercedes and parked it in front his house for neighbors to see. While he was getting out of the car, a truck drove close by, and disjointed the door of the car. The man called the police, who came immediately. The man said – “This truck driver damaged my car,  see my car door”. The police officer said – “Sir, do you realize that your arm is also detached”. The man replied – “Oh shit, my Rolex is damaged”. It might sound far-fetched that a person doesn’t realize physical damage to self, but most of us do ignore the internal damage pursuit of money causes us.

Quite a few of our prayers to God revolve around money. God, get me this deal (subconsciously – I will earn a lot of money). God, give me a good spouse (subconsciously – a rich spouse so that I can live in luxury). We are not above bribing God too. We promise to do x,y, z if we get what we want. However, if we face difficult times our faith disappears. We are unhappy and miserable. We don’t think that God may have gifted us the sword to cut our greed. We ourselves can remove the chains tying us to the greed.

Rabindranath Tagore in Gitanjali displays his profound understanding of the same. The English translation of the incredible verse is below:

He whom I enclose with my name is weeping in this dungeon. I am ever busy building this wall all around; and as this wall goes up into the sky day by day I lose sight of my true being in its dark shadow.

 I take pride in this great wall, and I plaster it with dust and sand lest a least hole should be left in this name; and for all the care I take I lose sight of my true being.

 I came out alone on my way to my tryst. But who is this that follows me in the silent dark? I move aside to avoid his presence but I escape him not.

 He makes the dust rise from the earth with his swagger; he adds his loud voice to every word that I utter. He is my own little self, my lord, he knows no shame; but I am ashamed to come to thy door in his company.

 ‘Prisoner, tell me, who was it that bound you?’

 ‘It was my master,’ said the prisoner. ‘I thought I could outdo everybody in the world in wealth and power, and I amassed in my own treasure-house the money due to my king.

 When sleep overcame me I lay upon the bed that was for my lord, and on waking up I found I was a prisoner in my own treasure-house.’

 ‘Prisoner, tell me, who was it that wrought this unbreakable chain?”

 ‘It was I,’ said the prisoner, ‘who forged this chain very carefully. I thought my invincible power would hold the world captive leaving me in a freedom undisturbed.

 Thus night and day I worked at the chain with huge fires and cruel hard strokes. When at last the work was done and the links were complete and unbreakable, I found that it held me in its grip’.”

For all our human insight and wisdom, we have tied ourselves in chains. We don’t want to break them, as it will require a lot of strength, so we continue to complain about them. We forget, a rose blooms on a stem of thorns.

Closing thoughts

 When we think about happy times, most of us have some memories of childhood. It was the age of innocence where we couldn’t even count money. All that mattered was the love of our family and the mischief we could get into with our friends. We walk such a long distance in our adult life to pursue things, than be blissful internally. It is out of fashion to discuss it, as the cynics will call us utter fools out of touch with reality. So let me open the question to you.

References:

  1. Global Index of Religion and Atheism Report: Number of Atheists Increased on Global Level
  2. Gitanjai – by Rabindranath Tagore 

 

Price of a Soul

Soul

At fourteen, I read Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead” and fell in love with it. It is one of my favorites and last week I read it again. I still found it mind-blowing. This time, Toohey’s character got me thinking.

In the last few chapters of the book, Ellsworth Toohey speaks about his devious plan to portray mediocre people in the media as supremely talented to gain power over public. He planned to rule the world by ruining the thought process of the public, demolishing the careers of great thinkers, and glorifying stupidity.

His conversation with Peter Keating, who was one of his experimental puppets, reveals the crux of human behavior and our vulnerability for exploitation. He said –

“It is only about discovering the lever. If you learn to rule one single man’s soul, you can get the rest of mankind. It is the soul, Peter, the soul. Not whips or swords or fire or guns. That is why the Caesars, the Attilas, the Napoleons were fools and did not last. We will. The soul, Peter is that which can’t be ruled. It must be broken. Drive a wedge in, get your fingers on it – the man is yours. You won’t need a whip – he will bring it to you and ask to be whipped. Set him in reverse and his own mechanism will do your work for you. Use him against himself.”

Isn’t this what our education system and media done to us?

When was the last time our teachers taught us – “Lie down on the grass and let your tensions drain away. Look at the vast expanse of sea to be at peace.” They teach students – “Own a lot of land and you will be rich. Get a ship to cross the ocean with your merchandise.”

Our education system on the pretext of teaching fundamentals and preparing us for life, teaches us that conformity, obedience and pursuing a career for success are the greatest virtues. How many schools teach children that creative thinking, being different or spending extraordinary time on hobbies just for simple pleasure of life, is something worth pursuing and achieving?

By teenage, the fashion magazines decide the length of hair, size of waist and color of dress that are suitable for the season. If a teenager refuses to follow, others label the poor kid weird.

As we grow older, the competition becomes of the gadgets we have, than our thoughts and principles. The neighbor has an iPod, Mercedes and x, y and z. So I also want the same. Have we every compared ourselves to say “the neighbor has such excellent thoughts for humanity, works diligently for the benefit of humanity and always  walks the high road on principles, hence, I want to be the same.”

If we aren’t thinking in these lines, then I would say Toohey’s words are correct, our education system and media took our souls not the devil. Moreover, if we are questioning how it has happened, then the following quote of Toohey’s captures the problem though said with a different slant.

“Make man feel small. Make him feel guilty. Kill his aspiration and integrity. That’s difficult. The worst among you gropes for an ideal in his own twisted way. Kill integrity by internal corruption. Use it against itself. Direct it of a goal destructive of all integrity.”

The key is – “Kill integrity by internal corruption.” From childhood, we are taught success matters. Success is equal to money plus position. Organization position gives power. That puts you in top bracket of society. This idea of success destroys all integrity within us. For the sake of money or position, we are willing to make compromises one after another. Without it, we feel small and useless. The drive for money makes the man poor in character and principles. At the start of our careers, we willingly hand over a part of our souls for a few dollars. By the time we retire, we are uncertain whether we have a soul left.

Then we lament on lack of ethics and profess horror on breach of ethics by the people we have put on the pulpit. In most of our adult age, when we haven’t had a serious thought on ethics or made an effort to learn ethical behavior, can we really assume it will occur by itself? We want to delude ourselves into thinking we are a good people, living a principled life because not thinking in those terms will destroy our self-image. . We cannot face the fact that 99% of us have conducted some crime or the other sometime in life. We cannot afford to face reality if we want to live.

Closing thoughts  

Ayn Rand aptly put it – “Enshrine mediocrity and the shrines are erased.” By putting money as a standard for measuring success, we have enshrined mediocrity of character. Nobility of character lost its glory when money epitomized the crowned king of success. They why show surprise, anger or disgust when our much hyped heroes breach ethics. Should we punish them or the society for teaching them the wrong definition of success? Can we punish a person for doing a better sales job on selling their soul than the rest of us?

 

References: 

Free download of the book The Fountainhead.  

Missing Men of Honor

royal disgrace

The Story of Disgrace

A wave of shame and disgrace washed over Indian Premier League’s (IPL) Rajasthan Royals team. Three players of the team – S Sreesanth, Ajit Chandila and Ankeet Chavan – were identified as part of the spot fixing racket. Eleven bookies were involved. Investigators have found some evidence connecting it to underworld don Dawood Ibrahim.

As per police disclosure Chavan was paid Rs.60 lakhs by the bookies, Sreesanth and Chandila got Rs.40 lakhs each. By the number of matches they have played they would have earned a few crores each. The bookies lured the players by throwing parties and providing female escorts.

It is shocking that players with such international repute and excellent career opportunities would take a criminal route to earn money. One wonders what they were thinking. Were they joyously throwing up their hands in the air and dancing with happiness. Did they think that for a few millions they would be breaking the hearts, trust and expectations of billions of people, starting with their family?

It is reported that Rahul Dravid, the captain of the team suspected something. He made Sreesanth sit a couple of matches and the team managers asked him to leave the team. How painful it must have been for Dravid, a man reputed for gentlemanly conduct.

This isn’t the first time followers hearts have been broken by their idols.  Now the cancer has spread through all facets of life. Indian politicians – Gandhi, Nehru, and Azad – were known for their impeccable behavior  Congress leaders fought for Indian independence. They spent years behind bars to fight for a cause. Now Indian politicians spend time behind bars for corruption and fraud. Instead of feeling shame or humiliation, they get back into public life with renewed vigor to mislead people and make money.  Over 30% of Indian politicians have a criminal track record.

The new breed, who have joined the infamous bandwagon are senior managers of Indian corporates. After Satyam and 2G telecom scam, their names appear frequently for being interrogated by CBI and spending time in jails.

Valuing Honor in Our Lives

So where has honor disappeared? Previously, the mark of distinction for a man was when people referred to him as – “he is an honorable man”.  Having a dishonorable reputation was disastrous socially and professionally. Now, honorable men among leaders can be counted on figure tips.

As a world civilization, we need honor back in our bloodstream. Without it, humanity will reach new levels of depravity. We require men and women to work dedicatedly to get it back for the sake of next generation, though it is a challenging task.

The cynics will say it is a pipe dream and point out various flaws. The idealists look at the times gone by and wish the same could somehow come back. The practical breed has learnt to work like an automaton to earn a living and look at nothing else.

So where do we get our heroes who will change the world for us?  The heroes have to pay a price. Lincoln, Gandhi and King – were all assassinated because they dared to bring about change. From the first step to the end of their journey they made personal sacrifices. They repeatedly saw failures, their hearts sank with despair and somehow they gathered their strength to walk on thorns again.

In the present world, who would wish to trade the high life, luxuries and comforts for a life full of dynamite?

But unless we do so, we are bestowing the next generation a dangerous life.

So our choice is between our generation and the next. Do we want to look that far ahead?

Closing Thoughts  

When we talk about change, our hackles rise. Even when it is obvious that we should change, we don’t want to. That is a human failing which 100% of us have. Our best excuse is that we can’t change the world, who would listen to us, how can all the people change? But if we study change, we just need 10% of the people to believe in our cause. That is, we need to influence just 1 in 10 people in our life. That doesn’t sound very difficult; all of us are capable of doing it. So why not give it a shot, and bring honor back in our lives. I leave you with words of Dorothy L. Sayers from Gaudy Night:

“If it ever occurs to people to value the honor of the mind equally with the honor of the body, we shall get a social revolution of a quite unparalleled sort.”

References:

IPL match fixing 

Risk Managers – Tone Down That Report!

This week three renowned figures – Angelina Jolie, Larry Page and Christine Quinn – disclosed their medical problems to the world. They discussed battle with breast cancer, paralysis of vocal cords, and struggles with bulimia and alcoholism. Jolie, a woman famous for her beauty bared her mastectomy details. They talked about fear of death and handicap, and frailty of human character. They risked high-profile careers by being candid. One word describes their actions – Courage.

However, the corporate world wants to hide behind lies and window dress their weaknesses. The corporate leaders sometimes threaten risk managers and auditors to tone down their reports. The messengers of bad news get shot. Risk managers face bullying, retaliation and threat to their jobs for showing courage to speak the truth. If they refuse to bow down to pressure, the business teams label them as politically dumb or difficult to deal with. Question is – should risk managers tone down their reports to please the business teams?

I want to discuss a couple of scenarios here and you decide the course of action.

Scenario 1- Don’t report correct facts to avoid giving bad news

Let us say, you are a CXO of an organization. You have a heart problem and visit a doctor who is a good friend of yours.

The doctor realizes your heart condition is bad. You require a heart surgery for four bypasses. The doctor doesn’t want to deliver the bad news to you, because he doesn’t wish to hurt your feelings.

The doctor tells you  – “You just have too much stress. You need a vacation to relax and have some fun.” He prescribes you some vitamins and discharges you.

You follow your doctor’s advice, take a vacation. You swim and jog for a couple of days and have a heart attack. You arrive at the hospital with a survival chance of 5%.

Did the doctor do the right thing by not telling you the truth?

Scenario 2 : Don’t report correctly to protect a friend

A civil engineer responsible for doing quality and inspection checks of a bridge notices that sub-standard quality of material is used. There is a high risk of bridge collapsing. However, he issues a clean report to his seniors because the engineer-in-charge of the bridge is a friend of his.

An organisation’s senior managers drive daily across the bridge to reach their office. One day all of them are on the bridge and it collapses. All die.

Would the families of the senior managers be happy with the quality control engineer’s for not disclosing the risks?

My guess is most of the corporate readers would have answered no. You would have preferred the truth when it is a question of your own life being at risk.

Corporate Scenario

So why don’t corporate citizens hesitate when they put other people’s life at risk. See the Bangladesh factory fire, Japan’s nuclear disaster or US banks home foreclosure and mortgage mess. Employees, customers and public lives or life savings were put at risk.

Wouldn’t a few honest risk management reports helped in fixing the problem in time to prevent the disasters?

The corporate world maintains double standards on reporting risks. They want full disclosure of the risks to them but not to others. Before setting these expectations, corporate citizens should answer these questions:

1) Isn’t it a risk manager’s job to identify the health problems of the organization, prescribe a cure, suggest amputation where required and nurse the organization back to health?

2) Is it right to compromise professional ethics and code of conduct to keep a few people happy?

3) Aren’t risk managers responsible for calculating the direct and indirect cost to others for non-disclosure of risks?

4) Shouldn’t risk managers hold their ground and stick to their independent advise as you will benefit from it in the long-run?

Closing Thoughts

Moral courage is one of the most difficult qualities to acquire. Larry Page, as CEO of Google fulfilled his responsibility to the investors by publicly disclosing his medical problems. Now the investors can make an informed decision. One has to admire Page for taking such a difficult call. It takes guts. Disclosing personal weakness makes one feel vulnerable, exposed and fallible. He has shown the path for corporate leaders to follow.

Human Rights Risk Management Process

Bangladesh Building Collapse

The fire in a nine-story factory building in Bangladesh killed 400 people. More than 600 people remain unaccounted for. It housed five garment factories that supplied to international brands – J.C. Penny, The Children’s Place, Dress Barn, Primark, Wal-Mart etc. The workers were asked to come to work even when cracks appeared in the building the previous day.

Bangladesh is the second largest exporter of clothes and the workers get the lowest compensations. Just around USD 37-40 per month. The question arises why are the multinational organizations not following the UN Guiding Principles for Human Rights protection. The reason is simple; they want to show higher and higher profits to the investors.

In Delhi, in Munirka one will find numerous small factories full of workers making export garments. A friend of mine also ran one. I had bought a few shirts from her at cost price ranging from Rs 300-500 (USD 6-10). In one international visit, I found the same shirts selling in range of USD 15-30. The fivefold increase in price was because of the brand tag attached to the shirt.

The multinational buyers push the prices down and some supplier gives a rock bottom price. The others are forced to match that price to get the business. End result is that basic facilities are not provided to the workers and they work at really low wages. Unknown workers are paying with their lives in developing countries to satisfy the growth targets set by CEOs to earn their bonuses and keep investors happy.  It is the dark side of capitalism which organizations want to hide.

In most companies, human rights risk management is not a focus area. The 2013 Global Risk Management Survey conducted by RIMS identified seven risks related to human resources among the top fifty risks. Though worker injury and harassment were included there was no specific emphasis on human rights risk management.

The risk management team can conduct annually or bi-annually a human rights risk management assessment. It requires attention not only from human resources perspective but from operational, financial, legal and reputational risks perspective. Any breach can result in huge losses.

Here are some of the steps mentioned in the UN Guiding Principles on Human Rights and guide “Investing the Right Way” issued by Institute of Human Rights and Business.

1.     Review the Human Rights Policy Statement

Human rights risk management is emerging as an important issue, especially with multinationals entering emerging markets and developing countries. They are expected to protect and respect rights of workers, communities and society. Investors can play a crucial role by influencing companies to promote human rights relating to gender equality, child labor, rights of indigenous people, land acquisition, mineral processing etc.

Hence, companies need to publish Human Rights Policy Statement on their websites. The UN Guiding Principle 16 states –

 “As the basis for embedding their responsibility to respect human rights, business enterprises should express their commitment to meet this responsibility through a statement of policy that:

(a) Is approved at the most senior level of the business enterprise;

(b) Is informed by relevant internal and/or external expertise;

(c) Stipulates the enterprise’s human rights expectations of personnel, business partners and other parties directly linked to its operations, products or services;

(d) Is publicly available and communicated internally and externally to all personnel, business partners and other relevant parties;

(e) Is reflected in operational policies and procedures necessary to embed it throughout the business enterprise.”

As a first step risk managers need to check whether the organization has a human rights policy statement and the above mentioned steps have been adhered to.

2.     Human Rights Impact Assessment

The second aspect of UN Guiding Principles is for companies to establish human rights due diligence processes. Guiding Principle 17 states:

 “In order to identify, prevent, mitigate and account for how they address their adverse human rights impacts, business enterprises should carry out human rights due diligence. The process should include assessing actual and potential human rights impacts, integrating and acting upon the findings, tracking responses, and communicating how impacts are addressed. Human rights due diligence:

(a) Should cover adverse human rights impacts that the business enterprise may cause or contribute to through its own activities, or which may be directly linked to its operations, products or services by its business relationships;

(b) Will vary in complexity with the size of the business enterprise, the risk of severe human rights impacts, and the nature and context of its operations;

(c) Should be on going, recognizing that the human rights risks may change over time as the business enterprise’s operations and operating context evolves.”

Human rights risk management is complex and challenging. If ignored, they can increase political risks and deteriorate relationships of the organization with the government. For example, Tata Motors wished to establish Nano manufacturing plant in Singur, West Bengal. The government allocated agriculture land using 1894 land acquisition rule, meant for public improvement projects, to take over 997 acres farmland. The farmers protested with help of activists and the then opposition leader Mamta Banerjee. Tata Motors moved out of West Bengal and established the factory in Gujarat. Multinationals looking for large tracts of land to establish factories are facing similar challenges in India.

Another aspect to look into is that scrap, waste disposal, sewage, environment pollution etc. from factories can impact food, water and health of local communities.

Decision needs to be taken whether investments should be made in countries or states with poor human rights record. In India, the Naxalite area is extremely conflict prone and business operations can have severe human rights impact.

Risk managers should evaluate the strategy and operations of the company from human rights, environmental, social and governance factors. The companies can face operational risks (project delays or cancellation), legal and regulatory risks (lawsuits and fines) and reputational risks (negative press coverage and brand damage). The impact assessment should be done from investors, customers, employees, society and supplier perspective. Identify business owners for the risks and devise appropriate risk mitigation plans to address adverse impact.

3.   Grievance Mechanisms

UN Guiding Principles state that victims of corporate related human rights abuse should have access to judicial or non-judicial remedies. Companies should provide some remedies themselves and cooperate in the remediation process.

UN Guiding Principle 29 states –

“To make it possible for grievances to be addressed early and remediated directly, business enterprises should establish or participate in effective operational-level grievance mechanisms for individuals and communities who may be adversely impacted.”

However, this isn’t followed by the companies in true spirit. “A Vigieo analysis of human rights records of 1500 companies listed in North America, Europe and Asia revealed that, in the previous three years, almost one in five had faced at least one allegation that it had abused or failed to respect human rights.”

Ideally the investors in the company should ensure that grievance mechanisms exist and address human rights issues. The transparency and disclosure of the same in annual reports would highlight the financial, legal and reputational risks. However, the investors don’t seem to be bothered by it.

See the case of Apple. It reported  Gross Profit Margin – 42.5%, Net Profit Margin – 26.7%, Revenue Per Employee – $ 2,149,835 and Net Revenue Per Employee – $ 573,255. It has 43000 employees in US and 20,000 outside US. However, Apple contractors hire an additional 700,000 people to engineer, build and assemble iPads, iPhones and Apple’s other products.

An Apple supplier in Taiwan, Foxconn was recently in the news for its workers attempting suicide. As per reportsWorkers are required to stand at fast-moving assembly lines for eight hours without a break and without talking. Workers, sharing sleeping accommodations with nine other workmates, often do not know each other’s names. They do not have much time to get to know each other. The basic starting pay of 900 RMB($130) a month – barely enough to live on – can be augmented to a more respectable 2,000RMB ($295) only by working 30 hours overtime a week.”

See the difference the company earns per employee and the payment made to the supplier’s employees. Apple shows profits at the expense of lives of Taiwanese workers.  The workers don’t have much of a grievance mechanism in China as the government stated that the suicides are within the normal suicide rate. Can Apple investors sacrifice some profit margin for safety and security of the contractual workers?

Another old example is the class action suit since 2001 on Wal-Mart Stores that involved 1.5 million current and former Wal-Mart female employees. It is the largest workplace bias case in US history.

 4.    Human Rights Reporting

 The biggest challenge is that most of the human rights abuses are not reported. The victims of human rights exploitation hold little power in comparison to the exploiters. They can hardly take up the might of powerful businesses when they are struggling to get basic food and shelter. Secondly, in the developing and emerging countries, corruption levels are generally high. Hence, media, law enforcement agencies etc. are bribed by the power players to silence the victims. However, with internet and social media, things are gradually changing. People have a voice and collectively they can fight.

UN Guiding Principle 21 lays out the requirement for companies to communicate human rights impact externally. It states -

 “In order to account for how they address their human rights impacts, business enterprises should be prepared to communicate this externally, particularly when concerns are raised by or on behalf of affected stakeholders. Business enterprises whose operations or operating contexts pose risks of severe human rights impacts should report formally on how they address them. In all instances, communications should:

(a) Be of a form and frequency that reflect an enterprise’s human rights impacts and that are accessible to its intended audiences;

(b) Provide information that is sufficient to evaluate the adequacy of an enterprise’s response to the particular human rights impact involved;

(c) In turn not pose risks to affected stakeholders, personnel or to legitimate requirements of commercial confidentiality.”

 As per the UN principles, the reports must cover appropriate qualitative and quantitative indicators, feedback from internal and external sources including affected stakeholders.

Risk managers can evaluate the reports and the reporting process to ensure that all risks are properly addressed. They should evaluate whether cautionary steps are taken and nothing is being done to exacerbate the situation. They should highlight severe or irreversible risks to the management to ensure appropriate decisions are taken.

Closing Thoughts

 Inequalities in income are the main cause of human rights abuse. The rich want to get richer at the expense of blood and sweat of the poor, and sometimes life. The diamond manufacturers and sellers took the right step to publish that they do not source blood diamonds. Since 2003, the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS), supported by national and international legislation, has sought to certify the legitimate origin of uncut diamonds. Trade organizations – International Diamond Manufacturers Association (IDMA) and the World Federation of Diamond Bourses (WFDB) – representing virtually all significant processors and traders – have established a regimen of self-regulation.

Other industries, be it technology, electronics or textile manufacturers,  need to come out with similar steps to stop human rights abuse. The risk managers have a vital role to play in it. If we do not do anything, we are cheating this and the next generation of their right to live happily.

References:

  1.  Investing the Right Way – A Guide for Investors on Business and Human Rights – By Institute of Human Rights and Business
  2. Singur farmland-  Tata Motors conflict
  3. Apple financial ratios
  4. Foxconn Case Study
  5. Diamond industry sales clauses
  6. 2013 RIMS Global Risk Management Survey

 

Indian Banks Give Customer Service for Money Laundering

money laundering

Recently a string operation exposed money laundering services provided by some Indian private banks. The employees and bank managers were caught on camera advising the disguised reporter on ways and means he can convert his illicit money into legal money.

1. Caught in the act

Some of the helpful advice given by bankers included:

  1. Open multiple accounts so that the amount remains below the reporting limits. Do not deposit over Rs 10 lakhs (Rs 1 million) in a single instance.
  2. Obtain a demand draft from a Cooperative Bank and deposit the draft with us. Cooperative Banks do not require an account hence it will be easy to obtain a draft. Since cash would not be directly deposited and private banks do not have to check the source of funds, the deposit will not raise any alerts.
  3. Route the cash money through another bank to avoid detection.
  4. The Income Tax act prohibits keeping cash in bank lockers. However, if you do not inform the bank staff, they can look the other way.
  5. Open an NRI account and slowly transferring the money offshore. We need a passport and visa for opening an NRI account. No pan card required.  Deposit Rs 25 lakhs per month. Better still start by opening a NRO account.

The bankers offered to visit the client’s residence to open an account and collect the money. One has to watch the video clippings to see the level of customer service provided by the bankers. No one can say they were not being helpful.

2. Standard response from senior management

As expected the senior management of the banks denied all knowledge, claimed they maintained highest ethical standards, suspended the branch managers and the staff, and commenced an internal investigation. But this is an open secret. Every business person in India knows that the banks will help them convert black money into white and transfer illegal money. If it was not so, how can a parallel black money economy exist in India for so long. Did the expose really shock anyone?

3. Lip service by regulators

Of course Reserve Bank of India has given detailed guidelines on Know Your Customer and submission of suspicious transaction reporting. There is only theoretical application of guidelines of Financial Action Task Force (FATF) on Anti Money Laundering (AML) standards and on Combating Financing of Terrorism (CFT). The Financial Intelligence Unit of India received just over 30,000 suspicious transaction reports in 2011-2012. It received 100,00,000 cash transaction reports. If you read these numbers in reference to the size of banking business in India, it would not be even .01% of the total yearly transactions.

In February 2012, the director of the Central Bureau of Investigation had said that Indians have $500 billion of illegal funds in foreign tax havens, more than any other country. Some reports estimate the amount over a trillion.

Hence, can we actually believe that regulators and bankers are serious about preventing money laundering in India? The annual report 2011-2012 of Financial Intelligence Unit doesn’t really mention any investigations done that would make the bankers uncomfortable. In India the detection and investigation capabilities of financial regulators is still in nascent stages.  Unlike US which has full-fledged organizations and systems to check money laundering.

Closing Thoughts

In the pursuit of growth numbers bankers are willing to compromise ethics and legal requirements. However, in Indian society because of the high level corruption, most businesses are doing the same. In such a scenario, it amounts to pot calling the kettle black. Unless we really get serious about removing corruption, as a society we can’t succeed. Some things required are – public to withdraw support from companies using unethical practices to succeed, regulators take organizations to task, and government prosecutes politicians and other individuals for dealing with illicit money. Till this happens only media will benefit by doing exposes to improve their ratings.

References:

  1. Cobra Post Expose
  2. Financial Intelligence Unit India
  3. Black Money Market in India

Fraud Risk Management in Ancient India

Presently, the Serious Fraud Investigation Office of India lacks sufficient powers to initiate investigations and prosecute. The Central Bureau of Intelligence isn’t independent due to which politicians escape prosecution for corruption and money laundering. Indian police force Economic Crime wing doesn’t have expertise in dealing with electronic and financial frauds. The legal system is pathetic and takes a long time to prosecute white-collar criminals. India has a shortfall of trained fraud investigators as it hardly has any courses for students in this line.

All these aspects may make you think that Indians are new to the concept of fraud risk management. This is far from the truth. Kautilya addressed financial fraud risks in 4th century BC and most of the concepts are still used presently. Let me narrate you some of the concepts he formulated in earlier times.

1.      Formation of a Central Investigation Agency

Kautilya proposed a central investigation agency for a kingdom to do espionage work. A network of spies located in different parts of the kingdom reported information to their handlers. The handlers in turn checked the authenticity of the information from three sources and if correct reported to the agency. The spies did not have direct contact with the agency to conceal true identities..

Spy selection depended on character and social position. Spies were recruited from all sections of society. Spies were positioned in all the departments and commercial ventures of the king to ensure that the head of the departments do not abuse their power or cheat the king. Women were considered particularly useful to penetrate wealthy households to get the inside story. In current India, there is a scarcity of female fraud investigators as it now considered a masculine job. However, in ancient India, women investigators and spies were quite common.

2.      Types of Financial Frauds

Kautilya identified 40 ways of embezzlement. Some of them are mentioned below:

  • Overpricing and under-pricing of goods
  • Incorrect recording of quantity of raw material and other stocks
  • Misappropriation of funds
  • Teaming and lading
  • Misrepresentation of sources of income
  • Incorrect recording of debtors and creditors
  • Incorrect valuing and distribution of gifts
  • Inconsistency in donations and distributions for charity
  • Misappropriating goods during barter exchange
  • Manipulating weights and tools for measurement
  • Misrepresentation of test marks or the standard of fineness (of gold and silver)

It is interesting to note that Kautilya mentioned most of the frauds that occur in accounting and preparation of financial statements. It shows human psychology has remained the same. However, in India the value system has deteriorated that has resulted in increased fraud and corruption. In olden times, the value of honour was held high. For example, the prime thought in Hindi was – “prann jiye pur vachan na jiye.” (meaning – it is better to lose one’s life rather than go back on a verbal promise given)

3.      Mechanism for Investigation and Punishment

The investigation process was quite similar to the current process followed. Information was initially gathered regarding the fraud from informants, spies, whistle blowers and audits. Background information of the suspects was gathered by sending spies to their residence and business premises.

Subsequently, the people involved, the suspects and witnesses were interrogated. Kautilya suggested separately examining ” the treasurer (nidháyaka), the prescriber (nibandhaka), the receiver (pratigráhaka), the payer (dáyaka), the person who caused the payment (dápaka), the ministerial servants of the officer (mantri-vaiyávrityakara)” for financial frauds. If any person lied, s/he received the same punishment as the main culprit.

Another fascinating aspect is that India doesn’t not have any law similar to the whistle blower provisions of Dodd Frank Act. However, Kautilya proposed –  “Any informant (súchaka) who supplies information about embezzlement just under perpetration shall, if he succeeds in proving it, get as reward one-sixth of the amount in question; if he happens to be a government servant (bhritaka), he shall get for the same act one-twelfth of the amount.”

The punishment for fraud depended on the nature and value of fraud. It ranged from nominal fines to death penalty. The victim was compensated for the losses suffered.

Closing Thoughts

The processes proposed by Kautilya for fraud detection were followed even until the Moghul rule. However, these were dismantled during the time of British Rule as the Indian Penal Code was formulated.  The difference between Mogul rule was that Moguls settled in India, marriages took place between Indian royalty and Mogul rulers and the culture got integrated over time.

The British came to rule for economic purposes. They wished to take advantage of India’s natural resources and vibrant economy. They levied their own rules and did not integrate them with the Indian culture. Hence, over time the Indian value system was lost or kept for namesake only. Overtime, as even after independence the British education system was used, a split ethical value system developed between personal values and business ethics. Therefore, corruption increased in the business environment till it became all-pervasive in the society. It is going to take a lot of effort to change the system now. No short-term solutions  will work.