Thursday, March 20, 2008

India's culture in clash

With the IT boom in India in the past several years, many interesting laws have been tested and are now clashing directly with the country's need to continue to be competitive in the world labor market. One specific case, identified here, demonstrates exactly what happens when old law clashes head-on with the need to innovate and stay competitive.

By the looks of things, India has some very serious issues it needs to work out.

"According to state law governing Bangalore, where the Hewlett-Packard operations are based, women are not allowed to work in the evening. A special provision is made for information technology and related companies, which must ensure adequate transportation and security for female employees." --International Herald Tribune

Here we have a crisis. In order for India to stay competitive in the technical labor market (of which 50% is women) the state laws of Bangalore have to be updated. Or do they? It's a clash of capitalist interest versus age-old laws in some cases like this. Perhaps the law forbidding women to work at night is outdated, and surely that point can be argued well - but what if the state refuses to change the law? Will the capitalist interest of foriegn IT shops win out, or will traditional law prevail?

Analyzing this situation from a business perspective, the law on the books is simply impractical. In order for an IT company to stay competitive and continue to prop up India's economic boom IT shops must have round-the-clock labor forces which will inevitably include women. Further, it is arguably infeasable (from an economic standpoint) to provide security and transportation for each and every female worker who is working night hours. To expand this even furtheras the article being quoted here mentions, there is a shortage of licensed and certified drivers for companies to use. So you have a dilemma.

While the outcry for social responsibility will not go silent, it will inevitably be weighed against the need to stay competitive in the world market. Using some basic logic it can be inferred that increased security costs will drive up the cost of doing business in India, or, cause foriegn companies to look elsewhere. While I do not advocate the "do nothing" mentality, nor do I feel like capitalism should trump tradition I unfortunately recognize there will be some sort of "reality check" that happens in the very near future. I can only reason that India will find a way to maintain the security of its female workforce, while keeping its labor costs from skyrocketing. Perhaps it's time for the state to step up and do something?

In the final analysis, the fact that an executive of a large company is being held liable for the death of an employee is unfortunate. The debate in the court room will no doubt be over whether it is the company's liability, or whether there is some inherent risk associated with working those hours - after all it's not a slave camp, it's a choice right? I'm just glad I'm not on that jury.

I welcome your comments, concerns, or debate.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

India curently is under pressure to churn out code at the rate demanded by the west. I think it has been clear for some time however that Indias main concern should be incresasing the percentage of the population who finish third level education. If they manage to increase the percentage of their vast population which has a western level (or greater) education standard with a willingness to work, the west will have to come to terms with Indias cultural differences. India does not have to westernize. India must educate and provide internal infrastructure.