The 2020 Edelman trust barometer – surveying 34,000 people in 28 countries – showed that 74% of people expect their CEOs to take the lead on change to address global issues. In the context of COVID-19, a follow up survey with 10,000 people in 10 countries re-affirms that people trust their employers to respond effectively and responsibly to the pandemic, and 78% want businesses to act to protect employees and local communities.
So what should businesses do? I asked 4 experts working closely with businesses in the context of the crisis: Peter Bakker, Lise Kingo, David Nabarro, and Anthony Renshaw. First, they pointed to businesses’ duty of care going beyond the health and safety of employees, to also secure employment continuity. Second, they highlighted the key role of businesses in providing medically-verified information to employees – important as employer communications is the most credible source of information about COVID-19. Third, they suggested that businesses find ways to support health systems. The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) lists such actions on its website, and the UN Global Compact calls on business leaders to support workers and communities.
Smaller local companies, providing employment to the majority of people around the globe, are the hardest impacted by the crisis. For WHO COVID-19 Special Envoy David Nabarro, all should support SMEs where governments might not provide direct stimulus package. UN Global Compact CEO Lise Kingo is working with global companies to keep the SMEs of their supply chains in business. For SOS International Medical Director Anthony Renshaw, local SMEs which are still open can contribute to the response by adjusting their practices such as defining specific shopping hours for the elderly, or their processes to manufacture supplies required by the health system. Looking forward, all interviewees noted the opportunity to rethink business models; reimagine the social contract of business with society; and move towards a model of integrated capitalism. And putting things further in perspective, WBCSD CEO Peter Bakker argued that this crisis was “a warning that the power of nature is stronger than any human constructs”.
For The Verge’s Casey Newton, who is usually quite critical, big techs’ response to COVID-19 has so far earned them brownie points. They have promoted high-quality information. They have offered money, supplies, and jobs. And this has put the big tech backlash on pause.
My quote this week is from NY Governor Cuomo’s 24 March briefing [35’26’’]: “And at the end of the day my friends, even if it is a long day, and this is a long day, love wins. Always. And it will win again through this virus.”