As the world combats the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses of every size are feeling the pinch. Yet these challenging times have inspired corporate social responsibility initiatives targeted to help communities survive the crisis, says CORE platform president Helga Ellul.
At the time of writing, a third of the world is on lockdown and the COVID-19 pandemic has altered life as we knew it. A crisis this universally close to home has had the power to upend not just international health services, but also businesses the world over.
“How quickly our world has changed,” said Helga Ellul, president of the CORE platform, which promotes corporate citizenship and explores what it means to be a responsible enterprise in Malta.
“Things taken for granted – such as going to work, meeting family and friends, hopping on a plane, living in a booming economy – have changed overnight.”
The crisis has inspired a feeling of helplessness in many – conversely, it has catalysed a stronger community spirit and a desire to help others. For the world’s businesses on a normal day, that translates to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). During a pandemic, CSR is elevated into part of a nation’s first line of defence.
By definition, CSR helps the community. As authorities officially announced the global pandemic, most businesses urgently made changes to ensure the financial security, health and well-being of their employees, which, by extension, is already a CSR exercise. Depending on the nature of their enterprise, many companies have elected to set up their operations so that employees can work remotely from their homes’ safety. Added flexibility regarding working times has also recognised employees’ new dual home roles as parents and workers and sick- leave contingencies have been formulated for those in quarantine.
“As president of the CORE platform, I have worked with small and large companies over the years to persuade them that CSR – and basing our business activities on sustainable development goals – makes excellent business sense,” explained Ellul. “Our businesses are only as good as our employees, so paying them the right wage or salary for their input, treating them equally, empowering them, educating them and supporting them will make our companies stronger.”
Many of the world’s big-name corporations have already set the example of CSR for their employees during the pandemic. Microsoft continues to pay its hourly workers their regular pay, irrespective of their reduced demand. Google established a special fund that would support paid sick leave for employees with symptoms. Amazon likewise made unlimited paid sick leave available to those who tested positive for COVID-19.
Local companies have been quick to respond too.
“Restaurants donated the food they no longer need to their employees or the food bank, hotels offered their rooms to frontline workers who can no longer live with vulnerable relatives, others donated funds to people in need. It is fantastic to see the good that has been done on the island in such a short time,” Ellul added.
Having shored-up the foundations of the company from the inside, the next phase of CSR is to look outwardly to reassure the consumers, stakeholders and greater community connected to the company. Beyond just managing a company’s brand reputation, this part of CSR is more to support public mental health by supplying regular, positive, relevant and meaningful company communication. A pandemic is not the time for self-promotion – rather, it is a chance for a company to use its CSR arm to ensure the community knows it is weathering the storm alongside them.
Charity begins at home, and, in terms of CSR, this applies to the company’s local community. Small businesses, especially, may be dwindling; a well-placed donation of cash or relevant goods may make a difference to their survival. Large corporations have already stepped in to assist small local enterprises, such as Amazon launching a $5 million relief fund to help affected small businesses near its headquarters, while Google has pledged $1 million to impacted local organisations.
Assisting the wider global response to the pandemic is also high on the CSR priority list of the world’s larger corporations. From transforming existing production to make free hand sanitiser (LVMH and the Shine Distillery in Portland), to donating major funding to hospitals and research efforts (Prada, Kering, Salesforce, Dolce & Gabbana, Giorgio Armani, Amazon and Microsoft), the CSR of most big brands now focuses on investing in the solution to COVID-19.
“There has been so much support offered by businesses in this time of crisis, and it fills our hearts with joy at CORE. This situation confirms that businesses have a heart and that they clearly exhibit social responsibility when necessary, in spite of the big issues, mainly related to their own survival – and for that, they have my eternal gratitude.”
For more information about how CSR can pioneer your business during the COVID-19 pandemic, visit www.core.org.mt.