THE INTERSECTIONS: Why robust business reportage is intersectional, inclusive and representative.

Author: Akshi Chawla & Anubha Bhonsle

  • The world of business intersects with the social, economic and ecological world in multiple and complex ways.
  • This chapter looks at four lenses through which corporate practices should be routinely evaluated 
  • Each lens can be used separately, but stories will have more depth and nuance, if they are able to capture the intersectionality of some, or all of these.

Currently the chapter can be downloaded as a PDF document in English. We are working on translations in other Indian languages.

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In this chapter, we take a look at four lenses through which reporters, researchers and students should produce  a piece of work related to corporations and businesses. Think of each not simply as an angle or a dimension, but rather a lens that you keep open when evaluating a company, policy or practice. While each one enables you to articulate an important story by itself, an intersectional approach will add several layers and nuance to your story.

What is Intersectionality

The origin of the term “intersectionality” is traced back to 1989, when writing in a paper for the University of Chicago Legal Forum, Kimberlé Crenshaw, a civil rights activist and legal scholar used it to explain how black women got excluded from both traditional feminist ideas, as well as anti-racist arguments because of the overlapping discrimination they faced.

“Because the intersectional experience is greater than the sum of racism and sexism, any analysis that does not take intersectionality into account cannot sufficiently address the particular manner in which Black women are subordinated,” Crenshaw wrote.

Essentially, intersectionality is a recognition of how different forms of marginalisations overlap and intersect to create forms of discrimination that are very specific to some groups.

If you’d like to read more about intersectionality: Why intersectionality can’t wait, Kimberlé Crenshaw, The Washington Post (2015)

India has some of the lowest female labour force participation rates in the world – a fact reasonably documented in research and media. Several factors contribute to it. It is largely driven by socio-cultural norms that restrict women’s access to opportunities, as well as their participation in public life, including formal employment outside their home. But barriers to women’s participation do not end at the household – they only begin there. The world of companies and businesses can often push women and gender minorities to quit jobs, and to drop out of the workforce altogether.

There is ample evidence of bias against women at the level of recruitment, and during promotions. Wage gaps exist despite the law that mandates equal pay for equal work. Sexual harassment at the workplace is common, subtle discrimination, gendered expectations are rampant, and redressal mechanisms largely lack sensitivity. Even in industries and companies where women are employed in larger numbers, the representation tapers off at the top of the hierarchy, with women missing at levels where crucial decisions are made.

“When we talk about gender, we have to foreground that gender is intersectional. It has interlinkages with caste, class, religion and sexualities also, disabilities. So, our primary focus, when it comes to gender, has to be broader and has to be inclusive and holistic.” – Jyotsna Siddharth, India Lead, Gender At Work.

Motherhood can often jeopardise women’s professional growth, and even though laws exist to provide paid maternity leave, many companies continue to function in violation of the provisions, or use them as an excuse to not hire women. The representation and experiences of people from the LGBTQ+ communities leave a lot more to be desired. Those gaps aren’t even being documented properly yet. 

The new-age world of start-ups, funders, unicorns and VCs is not very different from traditional business set-ups either. Women’s access to funding is often heavily influenced by gender. Employment, promotions, opportunities for leadership, wages, bonuses, access to funding, and access to a workplace which feels safe are all experiences heavily influenced by gender. They are being acknowledged increasingly but still reluctantly only as an added “thing to do”.

Why should reporters evaluate the world of work from a gender lens? 

Gender is an essential lens to evaluate any business practice, policy and reality. From the products and services companies offer, to how they make and sell them, whom they target and how, are all important questions to be considered through  a gendered lens. 

Gender is still largely a footnote in business reportage, and an intersectional perspective is largely missing. It is often reserved for pink splashes on Women’s Day, or increasingly for a splash  of rainbow colours in June, the Pride Month. 

It needs to go beyond that.

As Jyotsna Siddarth, India Lead at Gender At Work explains, while all these days and months definitely have their own relevance, reporters should regularly engage with the communities and experts who work closely with the communities, and keep the issues and rights of gender minorities at the forefront of their coverage, throughout the year. 

And even there, one must strive to be as intersectional in one’s approach as possible.

The ascension of women into boardrooms is increasingly celebrated in the media. Valid as it is, but by not questioning what happens in those boardrooms, and outside it on factory floors, and fields, the wage gaps, the media gets entangled in  its familiar trope — it celebrates the numbers, the heroic CEOs or women who “can have it all”, while true gender equality remains a long way off.

“There is definitely a progress and shift that we’re seeing in corporate organisations… if you do an analysis, you will find that there are a lot more women sitting in higher positions today, which was not the case earlier. There is definitely a movement and progress. But just talking about women doesn’t help. We need to pay attention to which women we are talking about, because there is a higher participation and representation of only upper caste and upper class women. We still don’t see Dalit women, trans women, and Muslim women and women from other marginalised communities. They are women, too. In that regard, a lot of work needs to be done,” adds Jyotsna Siddharth, India Lead, Gender At Work.

Women in the workforce spend time on farms, in contingent labour, in care work, in brick kilns, at mining sites and so on. The economy of millions of rural households, farms and factories rests largely on their labour. Yet business reportage rarely concerns itself with labour, and the doubly invisibilized female  labour.  Women are often discriminated against and denied rights on account of their gender, social standing and caste.

This is most evident in reportage around industrial sectors, agriculture and land acquisition where the female workforce is at the forefront of activity (labour and protests) often with no ownership of land or stature. Millions of Indian women are engaged in agriculture and allied activities, with estimates suggesting that almost 80 per cent of agricultural work is done by women – yet think of the images of farmers  in the media: they are  almost always men.

The absence of women and gender minorities quoted as experts, cited, acknowledged and relied on for their domain knowledge in text and visual media further invisibilizes gender

How to think about Gender

👉🏽Incorporate a gender lens in a more routine manner in your coverage throughout the year. Don’t restrict these stories to specific days or months.

👉🏽Gender has to be understood and reported on in all its intersections with caste, class, labour, communities, mental health, disability.

👉🏽Approach gender in a comprehensive and non-binary manner. Focus on women, write about the experiences of transgender persons and of queer persons. And do report on masculinity critically too.

👉🏽Just as you broaden the subjects of your reportage, don’t forget: speak to a diverse group of experts, cite more women, cite more gender minorities, and acknowledge their expertise.

Story Examples

📌 The workplace is still a venue for discrimination, shows report, Kainat Sarfaraz, The Indian Express.

📌 Large Employers Are Required To Provide Creches, But Most Don’t, Shreya Raman, IndiaSpend.

📌 Why Workplace Support Is A Basic Need For Women With Schizophrenia, Riddhi Dastidar, IndiaSpend.

📌 How corporate India can make inclusion of transgender persons a reality, Joshua Muyiwa, The News Minute.

📌 In India’s informal economy, crores of women face gender bias and insecurity, Shalini Singh,

📌 Covid has devastated India’s self-employed women, Mirai Chatterjee, The Print.

The caste system in India is a system of social hierarchy and discrimination. It is also a system of economic discrimination.

As Dr. B.R. Ambedkar wrote

“Caste System is not merely division of labour. It is also a division of labourers. Civilized society undoubtedly needs division of labour. But in no civilized society is division of labour accompanied by this unnatural division of labourers into water-tight compartments. Caste System is not merely a division of labourers which is quite different from division of labour—it is a hierarchy in which the divisions of labourers are graded one above the other. In no other country is the division of labour accompanied by this gradation of labourers.”

Most occupations in India have been historically determined by caste, and there has been no room for mobility between occupations. In post-independence India, with Constitutional guarantees for equal opportunity, prohibition of discrimination, provisions for affirmative action, and the growth of a market-led economy, things are changing. But many of these hierarchies and discriminatory practices have shown stubborn persistence.

“From a broader view, capitalism anywhere in the world strikes feudalism. In India too, however unintended it might have been, India Inc. has assimilated millions and millions of workers from the countryside at lower level, as floor level workers and a great number of them would be Dalits. However, in India, our capitalists are not “capitalist enough”. If they behaved like capitalists, they would look for the Dalits in their boardrooms… they would ask if there are Dalits at managerial levels. Our capitalists are not capitalist enough, not modern enough,” says Chandra Bhan Prasad, Affiliated Scholar, George Mason University, and editor Dalit Enterprise Magazine.

Our workspaces continue to perpetuate exclusion, keeping Dalits in lower-paying jobs and occupations historically forced on the community. As a result, even in 2021, while work like sanitation and cleaning continues to be dominated by those who come from Dalit households, our boardrooms, managerial positions, and business leadership remain occupied by those with caste privilege. 

There is a glorification of caste-based occupations within the corporate sectors. So whatever efforts are made whether they’re interventions or implementing programmes, or even philanthropic support, it is only geared towards maintaining the status quo. Nobody is really doing transformative work, argues Siddharth. 

“Within the corporate sector, discrimination is not very, direct. It’s very silent, it’s very quiet. Nobody wants to talk about or acknowledge caste.  So people don’t want the Dalit community to leave their caste-based occupations, but they want to constantly make those occupations more easy so to say, so that the community continues to do that work,” adds Jyotsna Siddharth, India Lead, Gender At Work.

Why is a caste lens important for your business reportage? 

The world of work in large parts, is a casteist one, with little representation of people from marginalised groups in white collar professions, and less so in positions of affluence and influence. And when people from marginalised backgrounds do make it, they report facing subtle and explicit casteist remarks, abuse and discrimination. 

And yet, not much of business reportage is mindful of and reflective of it.

A few years ago, the economist Ashwini Deshpande conducted a study where she looked at the data on how caste plays out within recruitment processes in the corporate sector, recounts Jyotsna Siddharth, India Lead at Gender At Work. She analysed the customer care executive realm and found that when it came to occupations requiring “soft skills” the first people to already get negated and completely excluded from the interview process were Dalits. Because recruiters didn’t consider them to have these skills. 

“Within the corporate sector, discrimination is not very, direct. It’s very silent, it’s very quiet. Nobody wants to talk about or acknowledge caste.  So people don’t want the Dalit community to leave their caste-based occupations, but they want to constantly make those occupations more easy so to say, so that the community continues to do that work,” adds Jyotsna Siddharth, India Lead, Gender At Work.

So, does the Indian media not cover caste-based issues at all?

Chandra Bhan Prasad, scholar and author, says that in the last 10-15 years,  the Indian media has done a rather good job capturing  atrocities on Dalits, hunger, destitution and poverty among Dalits. But it  does not profile Dalits who have succeeded, he says. 

Prasad’s extensive research and writings on Dalit entreprenuership document stories of Dalits who have gone on to start their own businesses. He shares an example of the healthcare sector – where many Dalits, who were able to get an education in the medical sciences through affirmative action, have gone on to open their own hospitals which now employ doctors from communities considered upper-caste. But you would not find these stories reported in the media, he observes.

Story Examples

📌 How big tech is importing India’s caste legacy to Silicon valley, Saritha Rai, Bloomberg.

📌 Hindu sect accused of using forced labour to build NJ Temple, Annie Correal, The New York Times.

📌 Dinner tables, caste networks, entrepreneurship, Niranjan Rajadhyaksha, Mint.

Workers in India are protected from exploitation through a series of laws and constitutional guarantees, such as the Minimum Wages Act, The Prevention of Child Labour, Bonded Labour Abolition Act (1976). However, these practices continue, and are perpetuated sometimes by ignorance and at other times, actively via the routine workings of companies. 

Sample this: 

There were more than 10 million child labourers in India, as per Census 2011. 

3,13,687 people in bonded labour have been “identified and released” by governments across Indian states between 1978 and 2020.

More than 60,000 people forced to manually clean sewers and night soil (often termed as “manual scavengers”) were identified by the government between 2013-14 and 2019-2020. 

All these are official figures. All these forms of labour are also prohibited by the law. And yet they continue. 

Around the world, many criminal practices are also flourishing businesses. Among them is human trafficking, estimated to be a global business worth USD 150 billion a year. People around the world are trafficked for exploitation, which often manifests itself as bonded labour and/or labour that is grossly under-paid, and overworked. 

Exploitation of workers in the supply chain is not an aberration – in fact, some of the most popular brands have been found to be violating minimum wage laws, and other labour laws, even as they make large profits themselves. 

“If we look at the issue of migrant workers in the country. Last year, it got covered extensively because it was right in our face but we have not seen much reporting otherwise from the news media. That does not mean a crisis is not there. 

Even last year as the workers went back, it led to challenges – child trafficking, bonded labour. But we are not reporting on those enough. The pandemic has also been used as an opportunity to push for certain exemptions, and it is important to see how labour is going to lose in the competition among states to dilute their regulations in order to do better on the ‘Ease of Doing Business’.” (Dheeraj, Programme Manager, Praxis – Institute for Participatory Practices).

How to think about Labour when covering businesses? 

All those who comprise the numbers cited earlier are people who are/were being exploited either systematically by a business or an industry, via supply chains. The exploitation is not happening as an abstraction. 

“Companies often want a rollback on labour rights but this is short term thinking. This is a reactive type of thinking. Some companies didn’t even know how many migrant workers they had hired. There are people working in states different from their own – and nobody even asks them. The HR department isn’t even aware of their language, diet and other requirements. This is impossible to sustain.” (Viraf Mehta, Social Anthropologist and Independent Expert on Business and Human Rights).



And yet, most of these issues don’t get reported as stories that cast a shadow on a business and its irresponsibility. They get covered under beats related to social issues and development. Mentions of corporations or industries are cursory at best, and follow ups are mostly missing. 

As mentioned in Chapter 1, the violation of the rights at the workplace, whether it is a boardroom or a tea garden, is not a beat exclusively of those who cover rights, freedoms and liberties. That reporting is important, needless to say. But these are equally important and crucial business stories, where small and big corporations have not only violated regulatory frameworks but also failed in their legal and moral duty to conduct responsible business. 

It is important to understand and question who these profits are for if they are not being used to pay workers the bare minimum wages. 

These are issues to be tackled by crime investigation, and law enforcement agencies of course, but businesses will have to play a key role if we really have to make progress on combating these crimes. 

Robust, critical business reportage that is able to evaluate businesses for their human toll, and can ask difficult questions of companies (beyond their business performance and numbers alone), is integral to and essential in that endeavour. 

Story Examples

📌 Indian garment workers are caught between Covid-19 and lost wages, Marc Bain, Quartz.

📌 Zomato, Swiggy score 1/10 on working conditions for workers: Report, Apoorva Mittal, Economic Times.

📌 The infamous Mittal of India, Prince M. Thomas, The Morning Context.

📌 Behind the glitter of lac bangles is the labour of trafficked children, Deep Mukherjee, Hindustan Times. 

📌 Manual scavenging has killed 400 Indians since it was banned – and yet nobody has been convicted, Radhika Bordia, Yogesh Pawar,

In the black waters of our rivers and the toxic air we breathe, the footprints of our industries surround our very existence. Their impact on our lives is ubiquitous – our water, air, and land are polluted even as companies that are responsible  get away without major repercussions. And then there is the climate catastrophe  evidenced by global warming, loss of biodiversity and increase in extreme climate events. 

If the world needs to move towards rethinking its approach to sustainable development, businesses, industries, and corporations will have to play a large part. And reportage on the connections between development and our natural resources will have to be more proactive, consistent and critical: it cannot be restricted to feature stories or tiny corners of newspaper pages.

As some businesses move to becoming more “green”, it is also important to be vigilant about the shift. 

In this section, we bring you some important questions to keep in mind when covering the intersection of corporate practices and the environment. 

We need to contextualise businesses in the current context of the climate catastrophe a bit more aggressively, says Arpitha Kodiveri, a legal researcher focussing on issues of environmental justice. There are two ways to do this, she explains: 

1️⃣ Evaluate the internal policies that companies have in place (if any) to address environmental concerns.

2️⃣ Understand how companies locate themselves in the context of, and on the issues of, social and economic rights. 

As Kodiveri argues, issues of the environment are as much about justice as they are about the species and the “non-human” entities that inhabit the ecosystem. And so, it is important to embed business practices within society, even when reporting on issues of the environment. 

How can one report effectively on the impact of businesses on the environment? 

Reporting from the field, from places where companies’ supply chains extend, and where industrial production takes place is the most important and obvious method to find and tell such stories. More so, when these production units are located in geographies that are not covered well in the national press. 

Additionally, there are a number of publicly available documents that can be a starting point. 

💡Pro Tip: Chapter 2 of this module has step-by-step guides on sources of information that can help you piece together how a specific company approaches concerns of the environment. From information on environmental clearances and land acquisition to CSR, these resources can point you to critical stories, and help you strengthen your reporting.

In addition, Kodiveri suggests that an effective tool to understand the situation is the environmental law itself. Reporters and researchers can ask questions such as, has a company complied with the requirements of the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA)? Or how effectively have they been consulting with local communities whose land they are going to acquire? 

“A lot of these procedural as well as substantive rights exist within India’s environmental law framework, and accessing reports of compliance is fairly easy. That’s one way to really understand how businesses are concerned about the environment, apart from the internal policies,” adds Arpitha Kodiveri.

The rise of green business and capitalism 

Over the years, there has been the emergence of businesses that claim to value sustainability and have no negative impact on the environment. They are sometimes referred to as “green businesses” and this movement is also called “green capitalism”. Many of these are smaller organisations producing products that are not harmful, are recyclable and biodegradable. Some also work in close association with local communities. 

The growth in this industry has been reflected in media reportage to some extent. However, it is important to make sure reporting and writing on such companies is not simplistic, and is more nuanced.



With an increased push for sustainability at the level of policy, as well as from grassroots communities and movements, more such businesses have begun to emerge. But there have also been concerns of “greenwashing”, or companies making claims of sustainability even as they have questionable records on the impact of the environment. 

As reporters, it is important to be aware of all sides of the story, and to evaluate statements and policies of companies keeping a strong public interest lens at the forefront of reportage. 

“When reporters encounter these ideas of green capitalism (which may even come in the form of CSR projects) they should be sceptical, not by denying the contribution that it might make as we transition to a more green economy, but to be mindful of whether it addresses the age-old questions of inequality, as well as what impact it is having on future generations?” adds Arpitha Kodiveri.

As the world attempts to make a shift towards more sustainable and environment-friendly forms of production, it is important to be mindful of the legal, political and economic context in which these shifts occur. 

Story Examples

📌 How Haryana allowed 15 companies to break the law and get away with it, Akshay Deshmane, The Morning Context.

📌 Unfazed By Censure, Maharashtra’s Polluting Factories Make Its Rivers The Filthiest In India, Paul & Sood, IndiaSpend.

📌 The deception of greenwashing in fast fashion, Mehar, Down To Earth.

📌 Plant Manufacturing Epigamia Yogurt Pollutes Water used by over 400 Villagers in Palghar, Varsha Torgalkar, NewsClick.

📌 ‘Mercury waste were not handled properly for years at Sterlite’, S Godson Wisely Dass, The New Indian Express.

📌 Our Favourite Jacket Could Be Keeping Millions of Indians Thirsty. Here’s How, The Wire.

How to make Business Reportage more intersectional?

👉🏽Cite the work of and quote diverse experts. 

👉🏽Talk to more women, talk to more people from marginalised caste backgrounds, include the voices of people across geographies, talk to gender minorities. 

👉🏽Cultivate the practice of doing this even for stories that are not necessarily about inclusion. For example, you don’t need to speak to women only for stories on gender, or with someone who comes from a Dalit community only for stories on caste-based discrimination.

👉🏽Actively seek out and keep up to date with the work of academics, researchers, civil society organisations, and advocacy groups whose work focuses on the intersection of business and economy with that of inequality, discrimination and exclusion. This Module has examples, but this is not an exhaustive list.

👉🏽When reporting on policies and doing analysis, reach out to institutions that represent the interests of marginalised communities. FICCI, CII, ASSOCHAM are good, but so are Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and associations representing workers in specific industries.

👉🏽Follow the product you are reporting across the supply chain — as supply chains get longer and more diffuse, they are more likely to be employing people from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds, and/or exploiting labour. You will not be able to report intersectionally if you only report from headquarters, or IT Parks, or from customer-facing ends of the business. Follow the product from source to sale, and track corporate practices across the line.

👉🏽If you are a newsroom editor/leader, it is imperative that you ensure more diversity in your team of reporters, and on the copy-desk.

👉🏽 While specific days and months are good occasions to run special series and articles, make sure you are covering the issues and using an intersectional perspective through the year, and not only on those occasions.

📚 Resources

🔹Gender Dimensions of the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, UNDP 

🔹Deshpande, Ashwini & Darity, William. (2016). Caste Discrimination in Contemporary India. 10.1057/9781137554598_8. (Available here)

🔹Traffik Analysis Hub

🔹Media Reference Guide | GLAAD

🔹Understanding The Status Of Female Migrant Labour From Odisha In The Tamil Nadu Garment Industry | Partners In Change

🔹Human Cost of Sugar | Oxfam

🔹The Sourcing Journal

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