The Financial Express

Colonialism’s effect on corporate culture in Bangladesh

| Updated: July 12, 2021 15:49:11

Shah Alam conveying the grant of the Diwani to Lord Clive' by Benjamin West (1765). Bridgeman Images Shah Alam conveying the grant of the Diwani to Lord Clive' by Benjamin West (1765). Bridgeman Images

Did you ever wonder why the office chairs of high-ranked officers have a towel over it? Interestingly, not to show any high status. The native Bengal and Indian officials used to use a lot of oil on their heads. As a result, the chairs used to become oily and sweaty. To prevent it, the British introduced towels over chairs, which remains a common practice in our country. Similarly, from our clothing sense to our organisational structures in our corporate culture, there are a lot of things that came from colonialism.

The corporate model of doing business is said to be the reason behind the success of Western Europe’s economic development and modernisation. Some say that the rare use of this model is the reason why the growing Middle Eastern economy has fallen behind. Europeans adapted to the concept of multiple ownerships and joint-stock from Roman laws.

The corporations and huge companies that we see today are a modern version of the East India Company, the largest and the most influential business organisation throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth century. The business hierarchy, structure, and corporate models have a few similarities with our contemporary organisational structures. Some refer to the company as the mother of all modern corporations in the continent. The East India Company separated investors from professional managers who ran their business achieving a division of labour that made it more efficient. We adapted to their business strategies and achieved more profits, which were essential for our economic growth.

Unlike its competitor the Dutch East India Company, it was a huge corporate, due to which it had modernised personal management as well as information management. To function properly, the company used thousands of clerks. Today’s marketing managers and the software are doing the same job. They just need less manpower because of having the software. The company directors used to think about how to maintain proper relations with the head office and branch offices. Similar problems can be observed in modern multinational companies. The only difference is that the company had the whole marketplace to themselves, which the modern multinational companies do not have.

A question remains that despite having the Portuguese, French and Dutch rivals how the English company attained so much success. The Portuguese, French, and Dutch lost to the British due to the latter’s military superiority. As a result, colonialism by the British affected us the most.

The Bengali people did not trust the English at first. Due to similar trading agendas, the English established trading rights in the subcontinent and after a while made contracts for selling products. The English also gained the goodwill of the rulers by giving them “gifts”, which was a form of bribe. This is a negative aspect of colonial corporate culture that some dishonest folks adapted to.

Speaking of negative corporate aspects, colonialism also changed our viewpoint. For example, the psychology behind young people seeking jobs instead of pursuing business ventures today is also relatable as these joint-stock companies used to provide stable jobs creating a job-seeking mentality among the youth. Also, the benefits provided by the company were a lot and it gave social status. Drawn by these perks, the youth hankered after those jobs. This tendency is still present in our society as most families want stability with status.

The Indian subcontinent, having its rulers, had its way of doing business too. It had laws and customs. However, they imposed their laws and customs by making general people think that they were superior. Although it has changed in recent years, a lot of our laws still directly come from British rule. As for the customs, the formal attire that we follow for our corporate jobs came from colonisation.

Before colonialism, the Indian subcontinent had different trading cultures. During colonialisation, our interaction with the Portuguese, French, Dutch, and British changed our social viewpoint a lot. Colonising states imposed their own cultures on the local people as their rulers and economic stakeholders. It gave us the idea of corporate jobs. After colonialisation, we maintained those corporate structures while changing some, recently due to social needs and technological advancements.


The writer is a student of mass communication and journalism at Bangladesh University of Professionals (BUP).

E-mail: [email protected]

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