Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Indian "Heroes" on American TV

I know in the past there have been a few discussions in the Indian blogosphere about desis appearing on American television programs. For example, there was the desi couple that was one of the first two teams to get booted from this season's "Amazing Race." I don't watch much MTV these days, but a student told me about a couple of desis on an MTV show called "My Super Sweet 16" where rich girls' parents spoil them on their 16th birthdays. So I looked into it, and sure enough, in episode 25 there were Priya and Divya. The summary of the episode begins like this:

Texas has two princesses when 15 year old Priya and 18 year old sister, Divya, throw a bash for a birthday and graduation. As one of the richest families in the city, the two only want the most extravagant World Indian-themed party there is.

For another take on Priya and Divya (and an account of a more modest sweet 16 birthday, see this archived post at Sepia Mutiny).

My real point in this frivolous post (I'll get back to more serious topics in the coming days) is that there is a hugely popular show this television season the entire premise of which is based on a professor of genetics from Chennai who begins tracking down "ordinary people who ... possess extraordinary abilities" (from the show's tag line). Of course, these people with extraordinary abilities (e.g., teleportation, spontaneous self-healing, flight, etc.) are all Americans. But Mohinder, the Indian character's name (played by Sendhil Ramamurthy), returns to Chennai in later episodes after momentarily giving up on figuring out the mystery of his father's death (it was his father who first hypothesized that evolution has produced people with special abilities).

Now, this is no low-budget TV show. It's on NBC, in a primetime slot, and has proven to be a big hit. Yet it seems as if the producers have cut all the corners possible in shooting the scenes that are supposed to be in India.

In the scene below, from the pilot episode, you can get a sense of what I mean:

(Sorry, I'm having trouble embedding YouTube video in Blogger beta. For now, here's the link.)

Be sure to watch at least a couple minutes in, until you get to the part where Mohinder is lecturing to students, presumably at the University of Madras. Then keep watching to see the scene where Mohinder walks through a supposed monsoon rain.

In later episodes there are quaint shots of Mohinder in a "bustling" Chennai market. I put bustling in quotes because the market in the scene bustles nothing at all like a real Indian market. Sure, the show probably didn't have the budget to go and shoot in India, but they could have gotten some better consultants to help them re-create some more believable Chennai-like scenes.

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The U.N. Global Compact: Why are Indian Companies Faltering?

First off, my apologies to the smattering of regular readers for such a gap between posts. In the academic calendar there are times of the year that are busier than others, and the last month has been one of those times. But the semester is near an end, and after I complete the manuscript I've been working on for a Dec. 1 deadline, I should have time to begin posting more regularly. Believe me, the ideas are stacking up.

For now, here's a quick post about the United Nation's Global Compact. The Global Compact was introduced in 1999 by (soon-to-be-former) Secretary General Kofi Anan with the aim of bringing together companies, UN agencies, labor, and civil society to commit to upholding ten universal principles in the areas of human rights, labor, environment, and transparency and anti-corruption.

The links above will take you to detailed explanations for each of the ten principles, to which companies may voluntary agree. So that you don't have to follow the links, here are the principles:
  1. Businesses should support and respect the protection of internationally proclaimed human rights; and
  2. make sure that they are not complicit in human rights abuses.
  3. Businesses should uphold the freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining;
  4. the elimination of all forms of forced and compulsory labour;
  5. the effective abolition of child labour; and
  6. the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation.
  7. Businesses should support a precautionary approach to environmental challenges;
  8. undertake initiatives to promote greater environmental responsibility; and
  9. encourage the development and diffusion of environmentally friendly technologies .
  10. Businesses should work against all forms of corruption, including extortion and bribery.
On the corporate side, participation in the Global Compact involves a voluntary commitment to the ten principles. Companies are required to submit an annual "Communication on Progress" that details the steps they are taking to implement the principles. What does a company get for participating? It gets to participate in Global Compact events such as "Learning Forums" where companies share best practices for upholding the principles. A participating company also gets to use the Global Compact name and logo in promotional materials.

There's a lot of debate about whether the Global Compact really makes any difference in a company's conduct. My guess is that the difference, if any, is minimal. But when the Worldwatch Institute recently reported that the UN de-listed 335 companies from the Global Compact (the UN press release on the de-listing is available here), it occurred to me that the transparency of the Global Compact listing process gives average citizens ways to hold companies accountable. According to the UN, de-listing is a strategy to maintain the integrity of the Global Compact:
This step conforms to the Global Compact's Integrity Measures ... The Integrity Measures state that any company that has missed two consecutive annual deadlines to submit a Communication on Progress (COP) will be regarded "inactive" and marked accordingly on the Global Compact website.
Since the de-listed companies can be viewed at the Global Compact website, I compiled a list of the Indian companies that were de-listed:
  1. Bharat Aluminium Company Ltd.
  2. Bongaigaon Refinery and Petrochemicals Ltd.
  3. Cement Corporation of India
  4. Air India
  5. Dena Bank
  6. Central Cottage Industries
  7. Excel Industries Limited
  8. Hi-Tech Carbon
  9. Hindustan Organic Chemicals ltd.
  10. Engineering Projects India Ltd.
  11. Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd.
  12. Apollo Hospitals
  13. Mishra Dhatu Nigam Ltd.
  14. Mineral Exploration Corporation
  15. Mazagon Dock Ltd
  16. Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd.
  17. Kudremukh Iron Ore Company
  18. Kolam Information Services PVT. Ltd
  19. Infrastructure Development Finance Company Ltd.
  20. Hindustan Sanitaryware and Industries Ltd.
  21. Hindustan Petroleum Corp. Ltd.
  22. Semiconductor Complex Ltd.
  23. Scooters India LTD
  24. Quadra Advisory Private Ltd.
  25. Punjab National Bank
  26. PSi
  27. Priconser India Pvt. Ltd.
  28. North Eastern Electric Power Corporation Ltd.
  29. National Textile Corporation Ltd.
  30. MMTC
  31. Wadia Group
  32. Unit Trust of India
  33. Transnational Supply & Service
  34. The State Trading Corporation of India
  35. The Shipping Corporation of India Ltd.
  36. Telco Construction Equipment Company Ltd.
  37. Tata Tea
  38. Tata Industries Limited
  39. TAL Manufacturing Solutions Limited
Some of these companies may have failed to submit a COP because they are no longer committed to upholding the principles of the Global Compact. In other cases, they may not have the resources to devote to developing a COP. Given the number of companies from developing countries among the 335 that were de-listed, I suspect there is a common obstacle preventing companies from maintaining their commitment.

Regardless of the reason, I figured readers of The Curious Stall might be familiar with one of the companies in the list, or even have a contact, and be able to find out why some of these companies have failed to submit their COPs. Perhaps through the blogosphere we can do a little collaborative research and put a little pressure on these companies to stay committed.

If you know anything about any of the companies listed above, even just general information about what kind of business the company is engaged in, feel free to post it here. Many Indian companies have no web presence, so it is difficult for me to find anything out from where I blog. Who knows, perhaps we can collect some information that might be useful to the UN's Global Compact office in providing better support to companies in developing countries that want to stay committed to the ten principles.

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