The challenges posed by the COVID-19 outbreak are forcing businesses to look for new strategies to raise money, cut their budgets and revamp damaged business. They are trying to restore the broken supply chains and forge reliable relations with suppliers, creditors, contractors and clients, which of late have become tenuous.
While the endeavor to revive cash-flow and resurrect business is understandable, many corporates and businesses across sectors, to trim costs, have resorted to layoffs and salary cuts. Seen in the context of a predominant informal sector, pre-existing dismal job opportunity and inadequate social safety net, the agony of losing job and livelihood has been heartrending.
Yet, be the sufferings of the disadvantaged and marginalized, corporate culture or philanthropic urges, we are witness to many empathetic voices and noble actions, from the corporate world.
Here are the five ways big businesses are showing their compassionate face:
#1.Positive leadership voices
The plight of the poor, informal and gig workers in general, and migrant laborers in particular, during the lockdown drew wide media attention and concern. At the same time, any gross apathy and indifference towards their plight by businesses has also evoked sharp reactions from corporate leaders.
Recently, in an interview, the ace industrialist and Chairman of Tata group, Ratan Tata, outraged by the large scale layoffs of migrant laborers, quipped “These are the people that have worked for you, these are the people who have served you all their careers, and you send them out to live in the rain? Is that your definition of ethics when you treat your labor force that way?”
For the record, several Tata group companies including its airlines, auto, hotels and financial services, like others in these businesses, are severely hit but have not retrenched employees to date. Instead, they chose to cut salaries of their top management by up to twenty percent!
#2.Mainstreaming ethics in business processes
The realization that businesses need to show care, sensitivity, openness and sense of fairness to all stakeholders, and not just shareholders, is finding expression in a variety of actions of tech companies as well. For instance, Amazon, often criticized for using too much plastic and thermocol in wrappings, is eliminating all single-use plastic in its packaging in many parts of its territory. Replacing bubble wraps and air pillows with “paper cushions”, it is swapping out packaging tapes with other bio-degradable options. Lately, it also announced the hiring of thousands of part-time workers introducing flexi working hours and humane HR practices.
#3. Pro-people progressive policies
On a different plane, a ‘Social Good’-Education-is getting all due attention from a number of big corporates like never before. For instance, the Search giant, Google, recently announced plans to invest $10 billion in India over the course of five to seven years. It plans to train more than 1 million teachers in India this year and offer a range of free tools and deliver a “blended learning experience” across 22,000 schools in India.
Silicon Valley giant Facebook, has announced a partnership with the apex school board for education in India, to launch a certified curriculum on digital safety, online well-being and augmented reality for students and educators in the country.
#4. Altruistic and charitable actions
Increased philanthropy is seen as one of the most positive consequences of the pandemic. Surveys show the pandemic has made corporates more generous, kinder and are more willing to donate. In an effort to address the digital divide and promote inclusion, businesses and trusts, for example, are making “digital donations”, donating smart phones, laptops, tablets, monitors etc.
#5.Questioning prejudices and taboos
Modernity demands questioning status quo. Many taboos are status quos of outdated, irrational and regressive beliefs and practices. Shattering such taboos, through collective self-reflection and action, can lead to a modern and egalitarian society. In their own thoughtful ways, many corporates are taking lead in demolishing such age-old misconceptions and prejudiced. Lately, Zomato, the food-tech unicorn and one of India’s biggest food delivery companies, has introduced ten days “period leave” in a year for all the women employees, which include transgender people as well. This is a significant milestone in a country where the subject of menstruation remains a taboo.
Empathy and ethos, not capitalism, will yield profits in the long run. As businesses across the world now begin to reopen and recover on the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic, corporate culture and conduct, seeped in goodness, will turn out to be key bellwethers of our future.
Written by Ram Krishna Sinha.