faculty speak

Does Tata Tea Boost Community’s Immunity?

A Chinese doctor, Li Wenliang, was in news recently for endorsing the benefits of drinking hot tea as a preventive for and relief from Corona virus infection. Sadly the doctor succumbed to the virus later. He claimed that an element in tea known as Methylxanthines substantially reduces the impact of corona virus. Some Chinese hospitals have been reportedly serving hot tea to COVID-19 patients three times a day to minimize the impact of virus infection 6. This news spread like a pandemic in social media within a short span. Myself being a teaholic (a term I coined on similar lines of alcoholic, in relation to tea), I felt it was party time, and treated myself with a buffet of tea variants and delicacies of Tata Tea – as a diehard fan and brand loyalist. First among my favorites was always Tata Tea Veda– a tea variant spiced up with tulsi, brahmi, cardamom and ginger. The awareness campaigns of Tata Tea are equally relishing and inspiringly aromatic. You may delightfully recall the campaign of voter registration, Jaago Re! (Wake-up) run by Tata Tea in collaboration with Janaagraha. Most of us might have been amused by the spirit and social engagement of the campaign. Subsequently the company focused its campaign on preventing corruption. The Jaago Re website was designed to support extensive debates on social issues. Even in the present social crisis, Tata group announced a liberal financial aid of Rs. 1500 crore for the corona virus relief fund, walking the talk of its credo which says ‘give back to people what you have earned from them1.   

Behind the veil of my crush on Tata Tea is my enchantment for and fascination with Tata brand itself. A cursory glance at the group’s persona reveals the secrets of its beauty. The philanthropic trusts created by Tata family hold about 66% of equity in Tata Sons (which owns Tata Group of companies). Our country’s first science center and the first atomic research center are the offspring Tatas’ social agenda. In 2004, Tata Steel (TISCO) committed itself to refrain from dealing with companies not conforming to its CSR standards. Sponsoring twelve Lifeline Express trains in collaboration with the Ministry of Railways, Impact India Foundation and the Government of Jharkhand, serving over 50,000 people is another feather in its social cap. Yet another member of Tata’s corporate family, Tata Motors is the first Indian Company to introduce vehicles with Euro norms.

There are many such companies across the world that stood up to the social need of the hour responding in different ways.  A peek into the social album of Merck & Company reveal snapshots of its commitment to develop Mertizan, a remedy for treating onchocerciasis (“river blindness”) investing tens of millions of dollars despite having no commercial market for the drug 2. It is a tropical disease afflicting 340,000 people with blindness in the most impoverished regions of the world. Another million or so had some form of visual impairment while 18 million were estimated to have been infected. Merck gave away the drug for free, while collaborating with WHO, the World Bank, and others for its distribution. Close to 25 million people were treated in a year under a program to prevent premature blindness 3. Turning another leaf in history, we find that Merck supplied the drug, Streptomycin to Japan at no profit, helping the country to fight tuberculosis in the aftermath of world war-II. Similarly both GlaxoSmithKline and Merck continue to donate extensive medical supplies under the auspices of WHO to tackle Lymphatic Filariasis (elephantiasis), while Novartis donates medicines under a leprosy eradication program 4.

From the times of yore, social responsibility was practiced as charity to the underprivileged and deprived. Since times immemorial, sacred scrolls of India emphasized the practices of sharing with and caring for the necessitous strata of society. The Adharva Veda for instance extols that money and resources are primarily contrivances the perennial stream of which should flow towards social wellbeing (Atharva-Veda 3-24-5). Indian culture is deeply entrenched in the values of care, compassion and service which are reflected even today in the work culture of companies like Taj Hotels, which is again a Tata group company.

Social responsibility has its religious roots as well. Several religions mandated and extolled such practices. In Islam there is a mandated practice called Zakaat which imposes a sacred duty on every individual to share a part of their income with the poor in the form of charity. Hindu texts of code uphold benevolent practices like giving alms (daana), providing shelters for the homeless poor and building water resources (dharma). There is a practice called Dharmada in Hindu tradition wherein every manufacturer and trader collects a levy from the buyers at specified rate which in turn is used for charity. Similarly, the Sikhs follow Dasvandh or Dasaundh – the practice of contributing one-tenth of their earnings for common causes of the community 5.

Being a hard nut to crack, I myself at some point was tempted to believe that business and social responsibility are poles apart, having no logical connection. But an undeniable fact is that business and society coexist in the same world entwined in an inseparable bond of reciprocal interdependence. Corporates have a social responsibility and society on its part has a responsibility to reciprocate corporate support by sponsoring and patronizing products and services of such entities, reinforcing each other. Even in the present crisis of covid-19 crisis, a cursory glance at some of the big ticket donors for relief activities include the following:   

  • Tata Sons and Tata Trusts – 1500 crores
  • Azim Premji Foundation – 1000 crores
  • L&T (Engineering & Construction giant) – 150 crores
  • Wipro companies – 125 crores
  • Adani Foundation – 100 crores
  • JSW Group – 100 crore

(the list is only illustrative but not exhaustive)

The intent of presenting these facts and figures is by no means an attempt to publicize or promote any corporate entity or their social identity but to reiterate an important INDIVIDUAL SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY (we may term it as ISR, in line with CSR for the corporate) that all of us have as social citizens. Indeed it is our moral responsibility to strengthen this link of reciprocal bond between corporates and society – our collective being. We have a binding obligation to patronize the products and services of corporates that support us as collective society by various ways and means, in addition to specific assistance in times of distress such as the present crisis. When we buy any product or service, let us not allow our choices to be guided by product labels, impulsive fantasies or advert attractions but by the value of social responsibility shouldered by the company offering them. We ought to commit ourselves to patronize products and services of such companies who patronize us as a society, as part of our Individual Social Responsibility (ISR)

Hijacked by my passionate indulgence in the above discourse, it slipped off my mind to update the readers on the news about the Chinese doctor and tea referred at the beginning of this discourse. To the sheer disappointment of Indian tea-lovers, the BBC News announced on March 25, 2020 that the claims about hot tea being a preventive remedy for covid-19 are baseless and fictional. However the news bureau confirmed that an element named Methylxanthines is present in tea as well as in coffee and chocolates, but denied having any evidence about Dr. Li Wenliang’s research on their effect upon corona virus. The news agency also confirmed that the said doctor was in fact an eye specialist and wasn’t an expert on virus and that the rumors about Chinese hospitals treating covid-19 patients by giving them hot tea, were false and baseless 6. So let us end the debate on whether or not hot tea is a remedy for corona virus. Instead let’s follow the tagline of Sprite soft drink, “First drink then think”. Just savor and relish sipping our favorite hot tea along with a bite of a crispy snack enjoying its soothing effect on our nerves while activating our brain cells. Let us tune in to our work at hand while humming our favorite tunes – holding a cup of our favorite hot tea. Let us celebrate the tagline of this discourse, “Tata Tea boosts community’s immunity”.

Dr Vikramaditya Ekkirala
Associate Professor

Human Resources Management