World business in a time of crisis – responsibility and solidarity

0In another time the United Nations would call for sustainable solutions of the biggest challenges in the world – from poverty and equality, to climate change and decrease of inequalities. The topics of the day would focus our attention on the green economy, digitalization and inclusion of people at risk.

In order to respond to the critics pointing to the slow progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in September 2019 the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres insisted upon mobilization in three main directions: 1/global actions for stronger leadership, more resources and smarter solutions; 2/local actions for adaptation to changes in cities and local communities; 3/ civil actions taken by youth, NGOs, companies, media, educational institutions and other groups.

Unfortunately, the expectations for more ambition and immediacy were given an unexpected impetus in the beginning of the year. The good news in this situation is that today we all participate – separately or together, on local or global level. Our leaders stay at the core of public attention and are forced to bear the responsibility, to act and to report on a daily basis. The experts’ voice leads in decision-making and along with it, many people are concerned about the health, both physical and mental, of others.

The COVID-19 pandemic appeared to be a litmus which brought the willingness, the dedication and the compassion of the private sector for social welfare to the forefront. The next paragraphs will guide you through some of the most inspirational examples of the first actions taken by leading international companies – members of the UN Global Compact family.

  1. Leading by example

The top managers of the Spanish bank Santander revised their plans, reduced their salaries by half and turned down their bonuses for this year. Consequently, they establish a fund with an investment of at least 25 million euro, in which the employees can also contribute. The money will be used to produce medical clothing and facilities, personal protective equipment (PPE) for the employees as well as to support small companies and the self-employed around the markets where the bank operates all over the world.

The CEOs of Nike – the family couples Knight, Donahoe and Parker, donated 7 million dollars to help Oregon Health & Science University in its researches during the crisis. The global giant launched a massive program for urgent measures to fight COVID-19 which includes production of PPE for medical workers. All of the profits from last year’ manufactured medical shoes will be donated to the children’s hospital in Oregon.

  1. Most important are human rights.

The discussions and actions taken to protect individual rights and the communities at risk highlighted the subjects of great importance – physical and mental health, food security, personal safety, digital education and others. The companies’ aid is often based on established partnerships with local authorities, specialized institutions and civil organisations.

Novartis announced that it will donate 130 million dozes of hydroxychloroquine to support the fight against COVID-19 by the end of May. The company committed its partners throughout their supply chain to produce more in order to respond to the global demand.

1Nestle partners with the International Red Cross and Red Crescent to help overcome the crisis with a contribution of 10.3 million euro. In addition, the company has pledged to double each donation the employees make to the organisation. The food products and the resources will be used to strengthen health care systems all over the world. The company’s means of transport and teams also help by delivering provisions from door to door.

The example of the three Carlsberg foundations – Carlsberg Foundation, the New Carlsberg Foundation and the Tuborg Foundation is noteworthy, as they have donated 12 350 000 euro to mitigate the challenges related to COVID-19. Those extraordinary grants were oriented towards: 1/collaboration with internationally renowned virus researchers from Danish universities, 2/The restoration of visits and the exhibitions in art museums after the crisis ends, 3/mobilization of youth and civil society for a long-lasting assistance of the most vulnerable people in isolation (elder people and people with disabilities, refugees and others).

  1. Labour practices

The most crucial and urgent task for all employers is to ensure that the environment is safe for their employees. In most cases this requires introducing measures such as working from home, work in shifts, processes innovation, holidays’ management including for those under fixed-term contacts, crisis centres for employees and their children, etc.

Santander has already undertaken steps to protect its employees. These measures include easier procedures to get paid holidays, suspension of business trips, opportunities for home office and work in shifts, up to 80 paid hours of holiday, obligatory remote work for the employees at higher risk. Its example was followed by the American tech corporations Amazon, Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Twitter, whose employees kept working from their homes while being paid by the hour at the same wage, which includes drivers, cooks and service staff.

These recently transformed business models required some companies to hire new employees as it is the case with Aldi. Lidl and Asda announced that they are hiring 16500 new employees to take care of sanitary precautions and home delivery. 

The examples of solidarity are far from being one-sided. All Virgin employees have offered to take between 6 and 8 non-paid weeks off in the next six and a half months in order to share the toll the crisis inflicted on the company, which operates in the tourism and travelling sector. Last but not least, the tech giant Google expanded its program, which doubles the employees’ donations, thus setting a limit of $10,000.

  1. Resource sharing

It turned out that, despite any production specialization, manufacturing combines could be redirected to produce new products – from masks and protective wear to respirators, ventilators and other medical equipment. Centres for research and development joined forces to share know-how and thus created new partnerships, which address the needs of the “social-needs” market.

2We shall look at the example of the global brand LVMH, which makes perfumes for Dior and Givanchy – it started producing free hand sanitizers for the French citizens. The famous brands for alcohol beverages Bacardi and Jameson reset their distillatory facilities in order to distribute ethanol gels and  ethanol liquid, the last being essential in the sanitizer’s substance. HP mobilized its team for 3D printing as well as its worldwide network of partners, HP’s Digital Manufacturing Partner Network, seeking to create a design, to validate and produce components for medical protection and equipment – ventilation pumps, filters, valves and brand new components which are meant to block the virus  from penetrating. The files containing the design models are available and are free to use so that they can be produced everywhere. The automotive giants Ferrari (in partnership with Magneti Marelli and Siare Engineering International) and General Motors (in partnership with Ventec) reset their plants to help manufacture ventilators, respirators and other medical equipment. Lufthansa loaded its now empty planes in order to guarantee air deliveries. Almost half of the commodities have been transported as usual, the rest – on the passengers’ seats with seatbelts securely fastened.

  1. Taking care of the customers

The customers remain the most important group for every business. As a representative of the institutions whose clients are directly affected by the derived financial crisis, Santander adopted policies to support its customers: offices close in order to protect people’s health while at the same time the provision of services is ensured without a drop in the system’s quality; internet access to services and increase of the volume of free services for the customers during their home stay; suspension of some administration taxes; extension of the regular deadline for loan payments and lease agreements; grant of 25 million euro for self-employed and small businesses, free medical services and many others.

Since March 23rd Nike has been publishing new recommendations by athletes for a healthier lifestyle – mind-set, movement, nutrition, recovery and sleep. Today the professional sportspeople can’t train nor play together in front of their fans but they can unite for the sake of a bigger cause, to stay home and to play for the world.

Daimler helped with the fight against the virus in many ways – from local transport provision to donations of masks. But one very impressive aspect of their contribution is the job of the communication department, whose members work with complete dedication in order to bring forth reliable information concerning COVID-19, thus simultaneously dealing with fake news via their communication channels.

  1. Responsibility throughout the supply chain

3In a globalized economy the supply chains often reach several continents. Today global healthcare institutions and national governments set unpredictable conditions for the execution of these deliveries. To foster the established relationships, Unilever put 500 million euro aside in order to ensure the money flow towards its vulnerable partners – small and medium-sized companies. The enterprise will pay its subcontractors in advance and will prolong the grace period of its distributors. Additional products such as soup, bleach, cleaning agents and food with an overall value of 100 million euro have been donated worldwide by the company.

Half of them will go to the Platform for action against COVID-19 of the World Economic Forum and the other half will be spread via its partner organisations in the USA, India, China, the Netherlands and many others.

The global brand H&M redirected its entire supply chain (over 1400 textile factories in Europe, Asia and Africa) towards the production of masks and protective clothing for medical workers all over the world. The company will use the existing materials and its transport connections for immediate deliveries.

The cloud service SupplyShift enables suppliers to follow and to measure the sustainability of the supply chain and to boost collaboration between the different participants. In a period of 3 months everyone can gather free information and track its deliveries under the circumstances caused by COVID-19.

The most emotional act of support was Bacardi’s, which donated $4 million as financial and material aid to bars and bartenders around the world (people on the frontlines of our industry as they were called). The aid will be distributed to local NGOs and branch organisations.

  1. Invest to find solutions

A major part of the companies’ crisis programs was settled in pursuit of medical solutions. Amazon launched an investment program at a value of $20 million, assigned to start-up companies working on COVID-19 rapid tests. In order to overcome the economic crisis, Google established an investment fund of a total of $200 million and a grant fund of a total of $15 million for civil organisations. Another $20 million will be committed to increase the online storage for those universities which are searching for means to tackle the virus.

As long as the humanitarian and economic crisis that mobilizes the private sector in the name of public interest continues, this list will keep expanding. We believe that through the above mentioned examples you will recognize some useful practices and therefore will be able to reorganize your work in a safer, more fulfilling and inspiring way than ever before.