Top UK companies face Indian call-centre flak

British companies such as British Airways, Barclays and Norwich Union, which have call centres in India, are expected to be accused of a lack of corporate social responsibility (CSR), following reports of a surge in the number of suicides and stress-related problems among workers in the Indian call centre industry.

It has been reported in the Indian press that difficult working conditions in call centres, including long shifts and night duties, are leading to an increased incidence of work-related stress and even suicides.

The news comes as many UK organisations, such as Tesco and National Rail Enquiries, are planning to move their call centres to India, where labour is cheaper.

Amicus, Britain’s biggest private-sector union, is planning a poster and e-mail campaign to raise the issue of CSR among financial companies, many of which make use of cheap labour in offshore call centres.

Delhi-based Dr Jitendra Nagpal, a psychiatrist at the Vidyasagar Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences, who counsels “at least” two call centre employees every week, says: “This puts a question mark over the CSR of the companies that operate these call centres.” Nagpal is building up a database of the working conditions in the industry.

A spokesman for Amicus says: “Our campaign will target students, so that they can make an informed choice about the companies that they are borrowing money from. We think it is wrong that the rights extended to workers in the UK are not being offered to those working offshore.”

Recent reports also suggest that call centres in India are being targeted by organised crime and industrial spies hoping to obtain sensitive financial information such as credit card details.

Cover Story, page 26

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