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How to Prove You Are Socially Responsible During a Pandemic

By Sophie Foggin 20 April, 2020

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Large corporations’ motivations for making their companies socially responsible are sometimes questionable, often more focused around promoting their own image rather than helping the social cause they choose to impact. 

Rutger de Rijk, the leader of Impact Hub’s Young Impactmakers, told digital news outlet 150sec this in an interview about social entrepreneurship in the city of Amsterdam last year.

With this in mind, the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic has proved to be a particularly crucial moment for large corporations who are not currently in a position of financial risk to prove their social responsibility. 

Whether it be internal, focusing on maintaining pay and optimum working conditions for their own employees, or external, working with causes involved in mitigating the virus, companies across the world are discovering what it means to do business for social responsibility. 

Taking care of employees

Companies who cannot afford to keep paying their employees have applied for government furlough schemes, which in the UK offer to pay employees up to 80% of their salary and in Denmark up to 75%

However, in countries where governments are not offering these schemes, companies who cannot afford to continue paying all of their employees full wages are taking compensation into their own hands. 

Walmart, for example, has vowed to hand out cash bonuses to its hourly staff: $300 for full-time workers and $100 for part-timers. The large retail company, which employs over 2 million members of staff worldwide, has also pledged to hire 150,000 workers specifically directed towards helping vulnerable shoppers who can’t get to stores during the pandemic. 

At Apple’s Silicon Valley tech campus, which has been shut down for weeks to prevent the spread of COVID-19, maintenance workers, janitors and bus drivers have been left unable to carry out their jobs. After being threatened with losing their pay, however, an Apple spokesperson confirmed the contracted workers will still be paid during the shutdown.

Microsoft, PepsiCo and biotech company Amgen have also promised to keep up the regular pay of their workers whose hours have been slashed. 

Mental health matters 

For some, working remotely while we are confined to our houses during lockdown can generate anxiety and stress. Restricted space, an upset work-life balance and reduced social interaction with co-workers can also generate feelings of isolation and disconnection. 

All this, combined with the constant background noise of social media, non-work related distractions and the overwhelming uncertainty that comes with a worldwide pandemic, can mean that many workers could also be risking their mental health while working from home. 

In order to prove their social responsibility, therefore, large corporations such as Deloitte have developed a special guide which includes tips on strengthening mental resilience and caring for colleagues. 

Professional service network KPMG is also pioneering grassroots initiatives to support mental health, such as a video campaign that employees are working on in the company’s Vancouver office, which invites staff members to share their stories about how they are coping during this tricky time.

Supporting the mental health of your employees can also be as simple as showing flexibility and lenience while teams adjust to working remotely. For workers at business communication platform Slack, for example, their CEO’s promise to allow them to work flexible or reduced hours provides reassurance and contributes to a healthier remote-working environment.

Donations 

The COVID-19 pandemic is also providing the perfect opportunity for companies who have the resources available to donate to those on the front line supporting relief efforts for the pandemic. 

Besides charities and NGOs such as The Red Cross, Doctors without Borders and World Central Kitchen, which are sending aid to the countries hardest hit by COVID-19, several corporates have also pledged to donate some of their profits.

In its local area of San Francisco, cloud-based software company Salesforce is donating $1 million to the University of California’s COVID-19 response fund, as well as $500,000 to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The company has also pledged to match its employee’s donations to other organizations such as Support the Children and UNICEF.

Supermarkets across the globe have also opened up special shopping hours for senior and vulnerable citizens, such as pregnant women, who are less likely to be able to fight off the virus. 

Likewise, chain restaurants and cafes such as Starbucks are donating food or meals to food banks dedicated to feeding populations that could be suffering as a result of reduced work opportunities during the lockdown.

SaaS and e-learning platforms across the world — such as Zoom, Hubspot and Blackboard — are also donating extra free services to clients who might need them as we adjust to our remote lifestyles.

And finally, regardless of the industry they specialize in, companies varying from hardware manufacturers such as Black and Decker to cosmetic leaders such as L’Oréal are all donating face masks to help compensate for the shortage of medical supplies generated by the pandemic. 

Supporting small businesses

For large corporations lucky enough to have the financial resources to be able to survive the financial shock of COVID-19, now is the time for them to lend a hand to their fellow small businesses owners, for whom the pandemic has taken its toll on their confidence. 

With small companies shutting down and being forced to fire employees all over the globe, big tech companies such as Amazon and Google are donating millions of dollars in relief funding for small businesses in their local areas. 

And, while many customers are financially unable to support smaller local businesses during the economic downturn the virus and its effects is causing, American Billionaire and owner of the National Basketball Association Mark Cuban has offered to reimburse employees who chose to buy their lunch and coffee from local restaurants. 

The Bottom Line

Whether it involves showing compassion for their own employees, other businesses or those working on the front line to fight against COVID-19, genuine social responsibility has never been more important for companies that can afford to show it.

And, at a time when gaining PR traction can be like drawing blood from a stone, the PR benefits that corporate social responsibility can bring could likely be worth the investment.

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