Mylo Kaye

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is in a transitional phase for UK businesses due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While CSR has been the key measure for quantifying the social accountability of a business to all kinds of stakeholders for decades, recently it has evolved. And COVID-19 is forcing it to evolve again.

Last year, there was a significant transformative move for many businesses into the environmental sphere in terms of CSR. And then came COVID-19. The world’s economy shifted drastically during Q1 2020 with the global focus moving from growing business to preserving them. Rapid and comprehensive global retooling of business resources towards keeping people safe and ensuring core operations continue has taken over as the main priority for corporate leaders.

CSR is vital to support UK charities during COVID-19

But this doesn’t mean that CSR is dead in the water. In fact, it’s more important than ever, and companies are demonstrating their continued support for UK charities and communities even in these most challenging times. CSR will continue along these restructured lines throughout this year as the world waits to see how and when the pandemic will end, with a fresh set of priorities defining CSR policies.

While the concept of CSR goes back to the mid-1950s and the revelation that companies have an impact across society, more recently it has evolved to include specific and definable concepts. These range from human rights, supply chain, supporting charities through to Environment, Sustainability and Governance (ESG). Traditionally, the concept of CSR was considered mostly voluntary, but 2019 firmly moved it to mandatory for businesses. A major landmark during 2019 was the proposal from the Business Roundtable in August to “redefine the purpose of a corporation” by including CSR concepts as core business philosophies.

This good work has not been undone by the unprecedented societal challenges presented by the global pandemic in the first half of 2020. However, the global focus has moved towards protection of people and of core businesses. But not only that, businesses have demonstrated through their actions that their foundational role within society is to maintain quality of life for the entire spectrum of their local and wider communities.

Businesses adapt to support the community during major crises

We’ve seen this with major supermarkets quickly adapting to Government rulings on social distancing, contact-free shopping and that the priority is customer and staff safety above all else. We’ve also witnessed companies changing their core business to manufacture and deliver necessary medical and health supplies as the UK struggles with urgent and life-threatening shortages of PPE and equipment.

One of the core aspects of CSR is reinventing processes, products and strategies to protect wider communities. The impressive efforts that we have seen from all kinds of businesses to maintain the infrastructure the UK relies on is all part of CSR. While the pandemic continues to emerge, businesses are taking bold decisions to ensure their employees and customers are safe. Some manufacturers are completely changing production to make health care equipment for the first time in their history, all of which builds on traditional CSR aims for business to always have a higher purpose.

CSR means maintaining key infrastructure and supporting the community

Businesses are making every effort to ensure that there is a form of “business as usual”, and COVID-19 has only reinforced how integral the business community is to the entire population. For the rest of this year and beyond, companies will need to expand their focus so that it covers not only shareholders and customers but the very infrastructure that society needs to survive.

CSR is part of this, rather than being a practice that is left behind by challenges presented by the pandemic. We can expect most businesses to operate only within the consciousness of their impact on people, the environment, and the country. Maintaining these core commitments constantly reinforce the importance of CSR in the most difficult times.

This redirection of the current focus of CSR will encourage greater forward momentum on a global scale. COVID-19 has brought the fact that we operate in a connected world sharply into focus, which means that globally we all share the same challenges. Climate change, the creation of a workable circular economy and human rights will continue to need the kind of co-ordinated action the pandemic has prompted.

Corporate response to COVID-19 matches CSR philosophy

The corporate response to COVID-19 underlines that CSR is about the opportunities the business sector has to contribute towards solving broad problems facing humanity. Businesses reacted fast to the pandemic and around the world have shown a dedication to fighting back against COVID-19 and tackling the challenges through pragmatic means.

Business leaders in the UK have been focusing efforts on continuing to support charities, as well as contributing hugely to keeping the National Health Service (NHS) going. And the pandemic has shown just what can be achieved by businesses and individuals when there is an urgent need. There have been incredible stories such as the soon-to-be knighted Captain Tom Moore, who famously raised more than £32 million for the NHS, and there have been countless other acts of corporate and individual heroism to ensure charities are kept functioning.

For the entire community to come together to tackle global crises, businesses must work with individuals and charities in UK. And this is the kind of co-ordinated CSR-based response we’re witnessing in the UK as we start learning to live with the virus. To keep the economy moving, ensure people are safely employed, and ensure their own business survives, corporate leaders have been going into overdrive. In this time of urgent need, great anxiety and uncertainty, it’s the business community that have built upon their CSR foundations to find ways to help the country.

UK businesses have stepped up to support the community

UK businesses have offered concessions to support NHS and frontline workers ranging from free food (Dominos), free breakdown cover (AA), free coffee (Starbucks) and myriad other small kindnesses that add up to big gestures. Vehicle manufacturers, 3D printing companies and other innovators are producing much-needed PPE and test swabs. Alcohol brands such as Brewdog immediately put their factories to work producing hand sanitiser at a time when supplies had simply run out.

And on social media all kinds of businesses have extended free activities, secret recipes, discounted entertainment, exercise programmes and online quizzes to ensure isolated people have a way to connect. Mental health charities in UK have fought to keep lines of communication open and small businesses in local communities have set up direct delivery services to vulnerable members of the community.

The Premier League donated £20 million to the NHS, HSBC has pledged £1 million to the National Emergencies Trust and the British Red Cross Coronavirus Appeal… there are too many examples of companies acting on the tenets of CSR to fulfil their responsibilities during this crisis.

It’s clear that CSR is now firmly embedded in the business psyche of global corporations, and that much can be achieved in times of crisis.