Established in 1995, Bharti Airtel is an Indian telecommunications company with operations in 18 countries across South Asia and Africa (through its subsidiary Airtel Africa). In March 2022, it had 488 million customers, ranking amongst the top three mobile operators globally. The company also has a global internet backbone covering 50 countries, with capacity in seven submarine cables.
Bharti Airtel demonstrates support for providing affordable and inclusive access to digital technologies through its programme to support refugees in Uganda. In collaboration with the United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF), Airtel Uganda has provided access to digital financial services to more than 25,000 refugees, empowering them with mobile phones and SIM cards. It has also distributed laptops to girls from rural communities as part of its corporate citizenship programme. In addition to these initiatives, Bharti Airtel discloses the number of people with disabilities it employs and how its economic value is distributed among its stakeholders.
Airtel Zambia has partnered with the SMART Zambia Institute in 2021 on a project called Kazipower – Girls in ICT, to provide digital skills training to school-aged girls. It has since reached 150 girls from underprivileged secondary schools, providing them with six months of technical digital training to encourage them to take up careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.
Bharti Airtel supports the tech innovation ecosystem through its Startup Accelerator Programme, which focuses on start-ups in areas such as artificial intelligence (AI), the cloud and digital learning. The company is also committed to reducing its environmental impact, as evidenced by its efforts to power its data centres with renewable energy.
There is some evidence that Bharti Airtel enables affordable and inclusive access to digital technologies for vulnerable groups. However, the company can adopt a more strategic approach in its digital access programmes for underserved populations.
Although many of Bharti Airtel’s corporate social responsibility programmes are related to education, few are focused on digital skills development. The company has an opportunity to increase its contribution in this area.
While Bharti Airtel is a member of many standards organisations, it can go further to demonstrate how it supports open innovation, such as by making a high-level commitment. The company could also report more detail on its efforts to carry out inclusive, ethical and sustainable innovation.
Core Social Assessment
The core social indicators assess societal expectations of business conduct that companies should meet if they aspire to be part of a system transformation that leaves no one behind.
Bharti Airtel commits to respecting human rights and expects its business relationships to commit to respecting the ILO core labour rights. However, it does not have a public policy statement disclosing a commitment to respect the rights of employees to bargain collectively, nor does it require this from its business relationships. The company identifies salient human rights risks in its operations and business relationships, but it does not disclose a process to assess and act on these human rights risks. Bharti Airtel does have a grievance mechanism accessible to workers and external stakeholders to raise human rights concerns and complaints.
Bharti Airtel publicly commits to respecting worker health and safety, and it places health and safety expectations on its business relationships and monitors their performance. However, the company provides no relevant evidence in relation to paying its workers living wages, nor does it provide a time-bound target to do so. Furthermore, while it provides a breakdown of employees in different employee categories by gender, it does not report employee numbers against any other indicators of diversity per employee category.
Bharti Airtel has a policy prohibiting bribery and corruption, and it includes anti-bribery and anti-corruption clauses in its business relationship contracts. Furthermore, the company has a grievance mechanism for stakeholders to raise concerns and complaints on the topic. The company also discloses a global tax strategy and a breakdown of its income tax payments in its individual tax jurisdictions. However, Bharti Airtel does not disclose its approach to lobbying and political engagement. Specifically, the company has no public statement indicating that it does not make political contributions, and it does not disclose its lobbying expenditures.