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Twenty-five small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) operating in the Indian textile sector in the state of Maharashtra have followed our call in early 2020 to embark on one of the most exciting journeys of their career: The Integrity Journey is a mentoring programme specifically designed to train SMEs in corruption prevention. The Journey comprises eight stages, including a kick-off event, online seminars and a VSVK corruption prevention training. Upon successful completion of the programme, participants are able to set up, implement and continuously monitor an effective compliance management system. 

Barely has the Integrity Journey started when the world was hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, which severely affected companies of all sizes, including those operating in the Indian textile sector. The pandemic posed unforeseen challenges that now had to be addressed by the training programme. In order to identify the bottlenecks where participants particularly needed support and mentoring, the Alliance for Integrity conducted targeted surveys. As a result, export-related issues and the dynamic change in compliance rules for exports were seen as the primary challenge during the crisis.

The training programme was developed through a bottom-up approach based on the survey responses. Due to the change in requirements, experts specialised in export compliance took on the mentoring role. Depending on their area of expertise, they led different training modules of the Integrity Journey, such as Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) Compliance and Financial Access for SMEs in Times of Covid-19.

The session on Export Compliance marked the official start of the Integrity Journey. Mr. Suhas Tuljapurkar, Senior Legal Expert and Founder of Legasis Services Pvt. Ltd., provided a first overview of the existing national and international legal regulations. In his presentation, he outlined the raising trend towards a stronger circular economy in the textile sector. Consumers place more and more value on sustainable clothing which also has an impact on the importance of compliance. “Integrity is an important success factor and can be seen as competitive advantage”, highlighted Suhas Tuljapurkar. Being able to put this into practice, Ms. Chandrima Chatterjee, Director of the Apparel Promotion Export Council (APEC), shared best practices and practical solutions with the participating SMEs. “The serious commitment to continuously adapt and improve the company’s compliance efforts is crucial to any functioning export business”, she emphasised.

Building on this, the Integrity Journey also included specific sessions that explained in detail how to develop, implement and improve compliance measures. An integral part of this phase of the Journey was the Vyapaar Se Vyapaar Ko (VSVK) corruption prevention training conducted by the experienced VSVK trainers Dinesh Agrawal, former General Manager of NTPC Ltd., Rajkumar Bidawatka, Compliance Officer at Sony Pictures Networks India Ltd., Dr Rajesh Chitre, Chief Compliance Officer at Merck India, and Ashish Jain from Giesecke & Devrient MS India Pvt. Ltd. The training is characterised by its practical approach: With the help of interactive role plays and concrete case scenarios, participants learn how to behave correctly in dilemma situations. Mr. Dinesh Agrawal concluded the VSVK training programme stating: “Establishing a successful compliance management system is directly related to training and raising awareness of the need for compliance mechanisms in the company.”

The following two mentoring sessions covered Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) Compliance and Financial Access for SMEs. The session on IPR, which is at the core of the textile sector, was led by Mr. Raghavendra Bhat, Head of IP at M.V KINI & Co., who focused on the IPR rights used in the textile sector and the challenges that may arise. He created awareness of the areas in the industry where Intellectual Property applies: from designs to patents and copyrights, how to protect them and how to avoid infringing the rights of others.

The session on Financial Access was facilitated by two representatives of the State Bank of India, namely Mr. Tedy Somar and Mr. Sagar Khandelwal. Although the pandemic has put a heavy financial strain on businesses, there are only few financial aids provided by the national and state governments. It is therefore even more important for SMEs to be aware of these aids and what procedures are required to access them. Extended registration periods, increased granting of long-term loans at more favourable interest rates and extended terms for loan repayments up to certain limits, depending on the size of the company, were discussed with the participants. There are programmes introduced by the Indian Government to provide financial support to SMEs and encourage them to become globally competitive. However, the experts stressed that companies should evaluate all risk factors before considering financial packages from the Government, as these reliefs come with limitations and could lead to excessive asset liability due to financing and depreciation values.

Delving deeper, the Integrity Journey also included bilateral sessions between the participants and the compliance experts to facilitate conversation, build trust and provide individual support. Following the Integrity Journey, participants who completed all modules of the training programme received a certificate of participation.

The Integrity Journey provides a foundation on which companies can build, but the key is their personal commitment to putting what they have learnt into practice. It is therefore worth taking a look at what happened after the Journey: Sapana Polyweave Pvt. Ltd., a SME that manufactures polypropylene mats, has greatly improved and strengthened its compliance mechanisms after completing the training programme. “Participating in the Integrity Journey encouraged us to address compliance issues more systematically. The mentoring sessions in particular have provided us with valuable insights on how we can make our business even more sustainable and resilient. In the future, we will also pass on what we have learnt to our supply chain as it takes our collective engagement to achieve true change,” stated the representative of Sapana Polyweave Pvt. Ltd.

Just like for Sapana Polyweave Pvt. Ltd. almost one year ago, every Integrity Journey starts with the first step. Let’s take it together and start running!

Author: Savita Singh

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