Why Covid-19 is set to redefine good corporate citizenship as we know it

By Susie Dullard

23rd March 2020

We weren’t ‘woke’ before. We were just sleepwalking

Earlier this year we were reminded of the power of humanity as the world united in its support for Australia, following bushfires which killed at least 33 people in the six months they tore through the continent. Fast forward a few weeks and people are fighting over toilet paper whilst retailers struggle to keep shelves stocked, amidst what has become the largest public health crisis of our time.

Whilst it’s difficult to allay anxieties amidst the overwhelming news agenda, economic uncertainty, increasing self-isolation and social distancing, we would do well to refocus our minds on the positive ways in which businesses are playing their part to support the public. Corporate citizenship as we know it is being redefined by this unimaginable pandemic, and any lip service to social good we’ve seen in the past will pale in significance to the current collective effort.

In the last week, we’ve seen the UK’s largest grocery retailers introduce priority shopping times for vulnerable individuals and front-line workers, and a call for competition rules to be lifted to enable grocers to work together to meet demand.

Healthy fast food brand Leon, which has more than 75 restaurants in the UK, has been transforming its shops into mini supermarkets, and has launched a new online platform to allow customers struggling to get essential items in supermarkets, the opportunity to get access to restaurant-quality meals, sauces, meats and other foods.

They join the likes of Pret, McDonald’s, WH Smith and Greggs, all of whom have introduced new initiatives such as free hot drinks or discounted goods for NHS healthcare workers in recognition of their incredible ongoing efforts.

Covid-19 continues to galvanise a humanitarian effort in ways not seen since the war. Social media is connecting people and businesses offering their help to more vulnerable individuals, and small businesses, themselves facing uncertainty linked to economic survival, continue to be supported by the communities they serve in return.

This moment of crisis has uncovered shared commonalities of responsible citizenship; whether that’s members of the public adhering to government guidelines, or businesses responding in kind to a society which, to now, has been kind to them.

The spotlight has been shone on how businesses can and must play a vital role in supporting some of our biggest societal challenges. Surely if we thought we were woke before, Covid-19 would suggest we’ve been merely sleepwalking.

We’re set to be forever changed by the unprecedented impact this has had on the way we work and live. Once the immediate crisis is over the public discourse which, in moments, pushed us apart, will be overshadowed by the moments that unified us.

For government and businesses who face the prospect of a new way of economic thinking, the emphasis will be on collaboration and how in our biggest moment of need, we all came together. Responsible capitalism will be the new norm, no longer a nice to do, but an expectation in the everyday.

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