Coronavirus: Can 21
companies earn hero status in a pandemic?
71 min Read Time | April 27th 2020
Is it a bird, is it a plane? No it’s business!
In the wake of a global pandemic, companies from all over the world dusted off their shiny red boots, pulled on the spandex, and tightly fastened their glittery capes to become heroes of the Covid-19 crisis.
Alongside the media dominance of a devastating health emergency, company closures, and unemployment, we also read news stories about businesses from all sectors swooping in with large donations, paid sick leave, and countless initiatives.
Aiming their efforts at either tackling the coronavirus directly or making sure the lives of those affected – whether it be their employees, front line workers or everyday citizens, were in some way improved or eased during the pandemic.
On the flip side, we also saw concerning headlines and reports of those not dealing with the pandemic so well. It’s all a bit much though isn’t it? Between social distancing, self-isolation and Netflix marathons it is impossible to keep up with all the news.
Look. No. Further.
As the dust begins to settle we’re examining 21 high-impact businesses and their behavior during the pandemic, to reveal who gets hero status and who needs to try harder in the face of the real villain - coronavirus. If you want to know who truly leveraged their resources, capital, and expertise as a force for good, then this list is for you.
The pandemic is far from over, the fallout has far hit us, and the recovery is another question entirely, but let us for a moment, see which brands stepped up to the plate.
The obvious answer to this question isn't business at all - it’s the front line workers the world over keeping the wheels turning and braving eventualities we’d all like to ignore but cannot.
However, there are other powers at play – whether we like to believe it or not businesses have a huge impact on our everyday lives in more ways than we can even recognise, and they have the ability to take action during times of difficulty – but did they use their power for good?
We don’t give out hero status lightly so what do brands have to do to get the seal of approval?
Is it a promise they made?
A message of support?
Or does it come down to their actions?
Well, we like to look at the very core - the societal impact they had and are continuing to have as we navigate our way back to normality, we need to try and think about the actual outcomes of their actions.
Did these brands have a direct and profound impact in battling against the fall-outs of Covid-19’s evil world dominance? Are their efforts large? And longstanding?
If the answer is yes, then they’ve likely been approved on our list, but not all good deeds are selfless, and not all bad deeds go unnoticed, that’s why we’re addressing the good the bad, and the ugly in our list that offers a fair balance between their heroic efforts and their less so…
Business Purpose & Priorities - People over Profit?
With that in mind we must address the fact that mostly, businesses are doing everything they can in their power to weather the storm and simply survive.
Many are still facing huge financial and operational challenges, thus it is a tricky landscape for them to navigate – but it is also an opportunity.
It is an opportunity in the sense that businesses have a chance to carve out new versions of themselves, or in the case of those already demonstrating their purpose, to solidify their position.
Allowing them to take their corporate ‘promises’ often delivered in the form of mission statements and values, and make them a reality by delivering real positive impact to society during what is turning out to be one of the most critically defining moments of our lifetime...
Indeed, the reason we focus on impact here at Impaakt is that without it, it is merely that, a set of ‘promises’, something written into the 'vision' page of a website or even in a Corporate Social Responsibility policy.
By focusing on what impact a business has, we are able to deliver a clearer understanding of what progress companies deliver through their products, operations and even their ideas, toward a better planet and society.
Without chipping into the impact bit, we’re all a bit clueless - how can we decide if we trust and advocate for a brand if we don’t know whether their core business actually delivers any good in the world?
Hence, during the time of crisis, when a spotlight is being shone on every business - what a great time to show up for the work and make good of all the promises you’ve made in the past, delivering positive, purposeful actions that translate into impact and ultimately change.
Now is such a strange and pivotal moment for our generation. It’s a moment that will also form a great deal of attitude and sentiment for those brands in years to come, making it an opportunity for them to step-up and be remembered for the way they behaved toward all of us, not just their shareholders but the world, what they do now will be remembered long after the virus has disappeared.
How does the priority list look within the corporate world when they function in an economy that rests purely on profits?
But how does the priority list look within the corporate world when they function in an economy that rests purely on their ability to make profits? When for so long, profit maximisation is number 1 with other themes such as the environment and social issues taking a backseat, especially at times of crisis.
The pandemic has attacked many businesses right at the profit epicentre which is leaving the world rightly concerned about the economic implications we are about to face, so it does beg the question then - is this economic model still 'fit for purpose'?
Well so far we can say, no, it doesn’t appear that many businesses in the world are positioned well for dealing with the turmoil of a pandemic, and surely it won’t be the last time something like this is taking down the economy - so do we need to re-look at the way things work at the most basic level?
Let’s face it, we are under no illusion that how we measure the success of a business will change any time soon, nor will the construction of our economy.
But this isn’t the first time that the basic workings of our economic system have been challenged, nor the first time that someone has said – does this really work? Or more importantly – is this sustainable?
The United Nations' (UN) draft Global Sustainable Development Report 2019 suggested we needed to make serious considerations for altering our economic systems, that it is unattainable to think we are able to maintain our level of economic growth on a planet that does not have endless resources, and that continuing to strive for economic growth in wealthy countries does not actually improve the wellbeing of those people inhabiting it.
That in fact, the speed that we produce and consume 'things' is not doing us any favours.
Well, what’s the answer then? What does a sustainable economy look like? Perhaps it comes back to priorities – and moving people to the top of that list, above profit.
Surely an economy should enable people to live #theirbestlife and not exist for the relentless pursuit of profit, which mostly makes a small number of people very, very rich and more often than not comes at the destruction of our environment.
Let’s, for a moment imagine that solution to be an impact economy, wonderfully summarised by Mckinsey here:
In an impact economy, consumers and shareholders will challenge entrepreneurs and executives to show that they generate their profits in a manner that contributes to the public good.”
But it takes the work of many to transform this basic model, so it is important that we can recognise when businesses are out there playing for short term profits and using destructive means to get there, and equally important to recognise those who might be trying to change the rules of the game.
Those running a different strategy than the rest of the players could be the ones bringing a positive impact to our world.
They’re the game changers, the ones we want to hero and the ones who will ultimately be the leaders of the pack, the more we hero those players, the more likely we are to reinvent the game.
It’s also those businesses with solid values and mission-driven purposes that will be the ones you see doing good during a crisis.
Businesses have evolved to function this way, why?
These businesses have evolved to function this way, why? Because you told them to.
We are a generation that demands accountability and transparency and we want businesses to do good.
“…consumers are holding companies to very high standards – the first thing they demand of brands and their owners is for them to 'protect the well-being and financial security of their employees and suppliers, even if it means suffering big financial losses'; with 90% of global respondents supporting this statement and 52% saying brands 'must' do this to earn or keep their trust.”
It also went on to say that 71% of respondents said that if during the pandemic “they perceive that a brand is putting profit over people, they will lose trust in that brand forever.” Strong words, not to be ignored.
So in a time where everyone is watching, let's see where businesses take their behaviour, policies, products and practices, right now they need to keep their eye on building trust not only with their workforce but the wider public, and perhaps that could mean a gradual shift in the way the world operates.
Pandemic Propaganda - The new Greenwashing
To wash or not to wash, that is the question.
And we’re not talking about washing your hands, that is as must.
But a different kind of washing.
Amongst all the do-gooding could businesses be using the pandemic as an opportunity to promote and market their products and services?
Let’s talk about Greenwashing.
Every business these days has a Corporate Social Responsibly Strategy, and many are re-vamping and delivering theirs with the coronavirus in mind – great. But when is the time to talk about it?
And when is it time to stay quiet?
It’s all well and good receiving an email about how a certain company are doing ‘everything they can’ to help, but some of it is definitely bandwagon hopping in the hope that it paints their respective company in a better light, what is more concerning perhaps is taking advantage of people during a time of crisis.
We need to be careful about what is getting re-packed and re-purposed to look like a company coming to the rescue, when it could in fact be them taking advantage of a situation.
So how can we all avoid getting brainwashed?
Well, it comes down to the evolution of Greenwashing and Wokewashing in marketing.
Greenwashing is a phrase coined to describe when businesses market themselves as sustainable or environmentally friendly when the core of their product or service is not, conveying a message that could be misleading.
Wokewashing or Socialwashing is essentially the social version of this, brands and businesses make claims in their marketing about caring for social issues like equality, equal rights, labour rights and so on, in order to gain traction and appear to be in some way contributing to a particular movement to drive sales of said product/service or improve brand equity.
But, there’s a new variation of 'washing' afoot. We call it “Pandemic Propoganda” where brands are hijacking the pandemic but offering no real value to consumers or stakeholders.
The first signs we had of this were companies reaching out, ones that we haven’t heard from in years to tell us they are ‘here for us’ during the pandemic.
Just an excuse to get in touch to remind us of X, Y Z products? Perhaps, perhaps genuine concern, but unless they have something meaningful to say about their service or product that relates to the pandemic then please, no more emails.
The second and probably more damaging than the first is when brands actively attempt to show they care without it being reflected in their core actions.
Take McDonald’s for example. They posted on social media the iconic golden arches re-imagined: they moved them apart, which was supposed to champion social distancing, but what value did McDonald's deliver to their market?
Did they protect their workers?
Offer discounted meals?
The answer was none of the above, at the time all they did was make a snazzy post for social media.
We also saw highly inappropriate company wade in, as part of what is now deemed a failed publicity stunt, big tobacco company Philip Morris donated ventilators to the Greek government, a huge swash of feedback from the public came thwarting the company for trying to look gallant when their products kill over 8 million per year, their communications director also wrote a piece on LinkedIn and later appeared on Forbes, about how the pandemic was bringing people together.
Again, coming from a company that has spent the last 50 years negatively impacting the health of millions we can all agree that this was not their time to shine.
So the moral of the story?
Brands and organisations who have adopted care, trust and value as a knee jerk reaction and marketing strategy during the pandemic are not those that will come across as genuine or add any value in the long run.
Those businesses with this as an integral and longstanding approach to their customers, communications and actions are the ones we can keep listening to, just beware of any hidden agenda - there's a difference between 'doing good' and 'looking good'.
Coronavirus:21 Corporate Heroes
Can 21 high impact companies earn hero status in a crisis? Find out.
1. Inditex Social Impact and Responsibility
With household brands such as Zara under its belt, Inditex are big fashion business. They announced net sales of €28.29 billion in 2019 and they employ over 170k people worldwide.
Inditex began by turning over their supply chain to manufacture medical gear, they announced they were moving many of their resources to help the Spanish government tackle the limited supply of surgical masks and the brand is manufacturing and donating the equipment using their own materials, they expect to ship 300,000 in total.
They also put in place plans to assist with surgical gowns once they have sourced the right material, a total of 13 factories in their home territory have been making these medical supplies.
On top of this, they also worked with the Spanish authorities to bring 35 million units of medical supplies from China, later purchased by the Spanish government and other donors (including themselves). Amongst the medical gear were 21 million facemasks, 1,200 ventilators and 485,000 testing kits.
The not so heroic:
They committed to paying the salaries of employees that are no longer working due to closures until the end of April, after this time it was not publically shared whether they plan to draw on the government scheme to pay these wages or foot the bill themselves.
One thing to consider in the fashion industry is the knock-on effect this slow down in productions has on its suppliers, it is anticipated that more than 1 million workers in Bangladeshi garment factories will be unemployed as companies slow or stop orders, Inditex has confirmed they will honour payments for all orders that have been produced or are in production but can guarantee no more than that.
What are People Saying?
Verdict: As the largest fashion retailer on the planet, Inditex has clearly done a good job in the face of a crisis, producing medical equipment will have a direct impact on those tackling the virus on the front line as well as the health of their home nation. We’ll keep an eye on them in the coming months, as restrictions in Spain loosen and more workers return to work.
The British investment back HSBC are the 7th largest bank in the world, and the largest in Europe, with total assets of US$2.558 trillion and revenue reported last year of $56.1 billion. Given the length of the pandemic, it is important for us to see how banks will support their customers and businesses, as millions face financial hardship and loss of jobs.
"HSBC announced the restructuring plans cutting down 35,000 jobs and cutting $4.5 billion worth of costs, similar to a few of the other players in the financial services industry such as CitiGroup and Morgan Stanley have been paused. While the Royal Bank of Scotland has gone ahead with the restructuring plan, cutting 130 jobs in their investment arm, HSBC has decided to halt any redundancies during the COVID-19 pandemic. During such a crisis as what we are facing right now, HSBC has decided to ensure their employees' comfort in the security of their jobs."
Furthermore, we saw voluntary salary cuts put into place:
"While redundancies are postponed, HSBC also announced, that the top executives; HSBC Chairman, CEO, CFO has voluntarily agreed to take a cut on their benefits, supporting the ongoing efforts fighting the pandemic. As reported, Noel Quinn (CEO) and Ewen Stevenson (CFO) will donate 25% of their salary for the next 6 months and forego their cash bonuses, totalling £1.4 million (S$2.5 million) and £800,000 respectively, while Chairman Mark Tucker will also donate his entire director's fee for 2020, amounting to £1.5 million."
Alongside the above efforts, HSBC took steps to protect their customers too, payment holidays and restructuring of mortgage payments were made available as well as relief loans for those meeting the criteria. For their business clients, loan repayment holidays were allowed as well as £8 billion in support for businesses allocated.
Finally, HSBC made a donation of $25 million, the aim of the money is to support the international medical funds, $1.75 million was given to relief efforts in China and India, $2 million to global charities coordinating the response efforts and the remainder to key locations where they consider the greatest difference can be made.
The not so Heroic:
HSBC, without notice or explanation, began to block all standing orders that were making donations to the British charity Interpal who provide humanitarian aid to Palestinians:
Verdict: The prevailing factor here is the holding of redundancies, despite the fact HSBC could have made them significant savings, by prioritising the job security of 35,000 people we think this is commendable, however, recent news suggests some top-level restructuring is going on behind closed doors and that they may indeed resume this plan with even deeper cuts. But their sizeable donations to medical funds will allow NGOs to deliver positive impact from their projects, so they are granted with hero status for now, albeit with a carefully peeled eye on things to come regarding their employee's futures.
With 750,000 employees under their belt, Amazon are ‘supplier to the world’ and with net sales of $280 billion in 2019 their major earnings come from online stores, AWS, web services and third-party seller services. As online shopping is the preferred method of choice to avoid in-store contact, Amazon play a key role in people's lives at this time.
They have partnered with hospitals, schools and community organisations to supply Amazon devices to those in need and to help with better communication in hospitals between health care workers and patients - up to $5m dollars worth of devices in total, they also updated this again to include another $2m worth of devices to local Seattle schools and families.
Amazon recently announced that they would donate 30,000 face shields which were designed by their drone team, with more to be sold at cost on their websites.
Furthermore, they recognised the fact that many people are cooped up indoors looking for ways to entertain themselves and the family so they opened up some of their services that are usually paid for, such as free ebooks and free access to family shows via the Amazon Prime streaming service.
A surge in online orders meant that Amazon warehouses stayed open and work continued on for most, which meant nearly 400,000 workers still in work during the height of the pandemic. During this time employees complained about a serious shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) and there were also complaints that no deep cleaning was being undertaken even in cases where Covid-19 have been confirmed, over 50 Amazon-owned facilities have had confirmed cases in the US, something that they failed to inform their employees of in a timely manner.
In light of the pandemic, Amazon and their poor sick leave policy for both full time and seasonal workers has had a light shone upon it. Right now, part-time and contract workers are not receiving paid sick leave, which could lead to them endangering the health of other workers with no option but to go to work even if they feel unwell.
To add to this controversy Amazon launched an online donation scheme to fund the sick pay ‘pot’ for contract workers and seasonal employees, of which they donated $25 million dollars to. At the time of launch, they were asking the general public for donations which was hugely frowned upon given the size of their business, though the page has since been updated to make it clear that they do not expect public donations to help the fund.
What are People Saying?
Verdict: As one of the richest companies in the world and a company that is actually benefiting from Covid-19 (CEO Jeff Bezos has increased his net worth by $24 billion during the pandemic), their philanthropic efforts do not seem to correlate with their earnings.
It is clear that their measures to protect employees whilst keeping up with demand is having a negative impact on the health and well being of those still working, they could be doing a lot more to protect their employees' incomes and health, whilst still serving their demands in a safe manner. On the 28th of April, they did pledge $800 million to Covid-19 safety measures, but on the 5th of May one of their Vice Presidents, Tim Bray resigned due to the sacking of whistleblowers by Amazon, only solidifying the facts about their unethical treatment of employees.
Fast-food giant McDonald's operates in over 100 countries, they have more than 38,000 restaurants and serve their burgers to nearly 69 million people every day. They initially pushed through, keeping restaurants and drive-throughs open in most locations, and later deciding to move to full closures or drive through only options, restaurants in the US remain largely open for business. Read about Mcdonald's sustainability below.
As part of McDonald's efforts to help communities during the pandemic, a project to donate over $3.1 million worth of food to local communities was set into motion, working with long term partner Food Donation Connection (FDC) and other local organisations, this project helps to ensure any excess food is used to feed communities and families who are struggling during the pandemic.
Many giants of the fast-food industry – McDonald’s, Burger King, Pizza Hut, Wendy’s, Taco Bell, Subway – do not ordinarily give their employees paid sick leave in many countries, but the virus is forcing them on to reconsider these policies, but nothing has been changed just yet.
What they did offer was a short fix, of 14 paid leave days - but only for those working at corporate-owned branches - not franchises, and franchises account for over 90% of their outlets.
Passing all responsibility on to their franchises means that they are subject to state laws, leaving thousands of employees with unprotected income in the pandemic, estimated to be around 517,000 in the US alone.
For those still working in the US there has been uproar about the lack of PPE (personal protective equipment) supplied in many locations to keep their employees safe, with several locations striking about further safety concerns following employees testing positive for the virus.
What are People Saying?
Verdict: The key issue here is workers' sick pay, something that McDonalds have been quite vocal about from their head office, encouraging their franchisees to do more but not actually getting stuck into reinforcing anything. It seems there is still a lack of clear action from the top, as a stable business they could have done much more to support workers especially as they clearly state on their website that their first corporate value is “using our scale for good: good for people, for our industry, and for the planet.” Something does not add up here. Whatsmore, as restaurants start to reopen in the UK and Australia there has already been a cluster of virus cases reported having started from a McDonald's delivery driver in Melbourne, this has meant hundreds are placed on unpaid leave whilst they self isolate.
Walmart, the supermarket giant employs over 2.2 million associates worldwide and last year reported sales of over $510 billion. During the pandemic, their stores provide millions with access to food and essential goods.
The Walmart foundation made a donation of $25 million on the 17th of March, of which funds were distributed to several organisations mostly focusing on food-related initiatives such as Hunger Free America, Feed America and Food and Research Action centre. $5 million of this will go to the Covid19 Solidarity Fund, a program that was set up by the UN to support the World Health Organisation that will support essential activities like getting PPC equipment to health care workers, as well as enabling countries to better track and test for the virus.
The not so Heroic:
From the outset of the virus, the lack of paid sick leave in Walmart was immediately highlighted.
“Walmart, the largest employer in America, doesn’t give its employees paid sick leave, and limits its 500,000 part-time workers to 48 hours paid time off per year. This Burring policy is now threatening countless lives. (On one survey, 88% of Walmart employees report sometimes coming to work when sick.)"
Several stores have also been shut following the death of employees after contracting the virus, with the company being criticised for not protecting employees enough nor being forthcoming about the number of cases, they are even being sued for wrongful death.
Verdict: In this instance, we again do not see the correlation of efforts to protect employees, both from a health perspective and from a financial perspective, with the capital available to the business.
6. Google (Alphabet) Social Impact and Responsibility
In this case we ought to say Alphabet, the parent company of Google, they are the world's fourth-largest technology company. Their revenue in 2019 was $162 billion.
From the outset Google established a Covid-19 fund that enables all temporary staff and vendors, globally, to take paid sick leave if they have potential symptoms of COVID-19, or can’t come into work because they’re quarantined. They have also made their video conferencing service, Hangouts Meet, available for all G-suite customers until July 1, 2020.
Alongside this google.org committed $100 million to several large scale projects including, relief funds, tracking of the disease, small business loans, distance learning and other humanitarian relief efforts.
Furthermore, Google also set aside $800M in ad credit and loans to help small businesses and government bodies to respond to the virus, amongst the ads donation a large portion, $250 million to be precise, goes to the World Health Organization and more than “100 government agencies around the world” that provide trustworthy information about the pandemic.
They have also committed to produce and donate 2-3 million face masks in partnership with Magid Glove & Safety that will go to the CDC foundation, as well as offering further support:
“Additionally, employees from across Alphabet, including Google, Verily and X, are bringing engineering, supply chain and healthcare expertise to facilitate increased production of ventilators, working with equipment manufacturers, distributors and the government in this effort.”
More recently Google teamed up with tech giant Apple to release software in the form of an API that allows countries to develop and release contract-tracing mobile applications. Utilising Bluetooth technology to trace which phones had been near each other, and consequently alert users via the app should they have previously come into contact with someone who later tests positive.
The not so Heroic:
Google has an advertising platform from which it makes a large proportion of its revenue, a recent report showed that they allowed adverts claiming to have a cure to the ‘China virus.’ The ads, that were created as a test for Google's ad blocking software, were created by UK newspaper, the Telegraph, they were shown 223 times before the Telegraph paused them.
Verdict: Google’s donations will have a positive impact in the progress toward managing the pandemic, both from a health care position with their assistance for masks and ventilators, as well as their tracking app that that launched in May in Switzerland, is still considered controversial, but ultimately could help slow down the spread of the virus with much better traceability.
We also like that they are assisting SMB’s with ad funding, despite the fact that they benefit from having the ads going through their platform, this will help businesses during a tough period.
Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessey are a French luxury goods group, housing brands like Louis Vuitton, Fendi and Marc Jacobs. In 2019 they recorded a revenue of $59 billion and they employ 163,000 people worldwide.
LVMH officials announced initially that their employees would rely on the emergency government help scheme offered to workers unable to work at this time, however, they quickly became under scrutiny when other fashion giants such a Kering said they would not be relying on the state to fund their workers.
Many other fashion houses have declared they will maintain workers salaries during this period, LVMH have decided not to take the state scheme at this stage.
Verdict: LVMH and their multiple initiatives demonstrate their commitment to generating positive impact during testing times, their efforts translate into benefits for health workers and what's more, they have used their resources quickly and efficiently.
More direct action was taken on the 18th of March when the group’s factories ramped up their production to manufacture significant quantities of hand sanitizer to support the requirements of the French and European health authorities.
The brand La Roche-Posay and Garnier began to distribute hand sanitizer free of charge to partner hospitals, pharmacies and food distribution centres.
Garnier supplied and distributed several million units of this hand sanitizer free-of-charge to all its European food distribution customers so that employees, who are continuing to work to meet consumers’ basic needs, can protect themselves by following the recommended precautions. They also shortened their payment terms with suppliers to help their cash flow situations.
Furthermore, L'Oréal also set up a Coronavirus Solidarity Program, extending from Europe to the US to support the fight against coronavirus which included a €1 million donation to its partner non-profits, $250,000 to US organisation ‘Feeding America,' donations of personal care products with a value of approximately $1 million and an unspecified number of N95 facemasks.
Moreover, L’Oréals sustainability was positively impacted when they joined The European Alliance for Green Recovery, which aims to ensure the economic recovery from the pandemic is a green one, helping focus efforts on growing low carbon industries.
Finally, they announced a €150 million social and environmental protection initiative called "L’Oréal for the Future" addressing those vulnerable to the impacts of the pandemic as well as supporting environmental initiatives via impact investing to ensure a sustainable recovery. From their press release:
"to create a philanthropic endowment fund of 50 million euros to support non-profit organisations that help women all over the world who are in highly vulnerable situations, victims of the social and economic crisis;
to reaffirm its commitment to the environment and to sustainable development by creating an impact investing fund of 100 million euros for the regeneration of damaged natural ecosystems and for combating climate change."
The series of measures implemented by L'Oréal and the brands within their group are another great example of what can be done, pivoting manufacturing quickly with the resources at hand in the face of a crisis. We particularly applaud their forward-thinking plans for a green recovery and supporting those impacted by the pandemic.
The American media tech firm makes most of their revenue selling ads on their social platform, last year making over $70 billion dollars. During the quarantine, many people will be spending more time on social, will Facebook be using their platform for good? Let’s discuss Facebook sustainability.
The company committed a total of $20 million to fight the outbreak, dedicating $10 million toward matching donations for the Solidarity Fund, and $10 million to match donations to an upcoming fundraiser held by the CDC Foundation. They also gave away 720,000 masks that had been gathered after the wildfires in California.
Facebook also started asking users to respond to a survey in order to track potential cases and survey users symptoms in partnership with Carnegie Mellon University. This was part of their wider 'Data for Good' program which aims to share, responsibly, the data they have for their users to push forward humanitarian efforts:
"As part of this, in 2019 Facebook developed a Disease Prevention Maps tool, aimed at understanding the spread of a virus and its epicenters through studying people's locations, routes and encounters. (...) over the last few months Facebook has shared global users' data - in summarized and anonymous form - with over 20 research institutes and universities, that are all part of the COVID-19 Mobility Data Network, and a number of nonprofits such as Direct Relief, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the World Bank, thus supported health authorities in finding answers to important questions such as "where do we need extra test facilities" or "where do we need extra beds".
On top of this Facebook donated over 2,000 devices to the UK health service the NHS, the portal screens will allow better communication between patients and nurses as well as family members unable to visit loved ones. Verdict: With these efforts, Facebook are using their reach and knowledge as a force for good, some may argue that their previous management of privacy could cause concern with regard to their symptom tracker, however, it is clear to see that these efforts are driven by the mission to help fight the pandemic and not at their own benefit. This sort of collaboration is needed to help accelerate our means of understanding and tracking the virus better and Facebook are well-positioned to offer thorough data on that topic.
Starbucks have continued to pay staff for 30 days during closures, in a strategy that ensured no one who was sick would come to work due to potential financial loss, this was implemented alongside their basic sick pay and a new ‘service pay’ that gave workers an additional $3 per hour for shifts worked in the same 30-day period.
Starbucks also expanded its Care@Work program, which gives support for childcare during the period of school closures, this policy provides parents with 20 days of backup care, and the option to use out-of-network caregivers, with a reimbursement of up to $125 per day.
Verdict: Starbucks sustainability actions show they have aligned their values of ‘Creating a culture of warmth and belonging, where everyone is welcome,’ by offering essential support for workers through the sizeable force of The Starbucks Foundation' that is still reaching out to communities in need during a testing period, a good example to follow.
"Our teams at Apple have been working to help source supplies for healthcare providers fighting COVID-19," Cook wrote on Twitter. "We're donating millions of masks for health professionals in the US and Europe. To every one of the heroes on the front lines, we thank you."
Outside of looking after workers and making donations, Apple teamed up with Google to collaboratively bring a contact tracing app that will track and monitor those who become infected with the virus in order to slow the spread, see the Google section for more on this.
Verdict: Apple attacked the crisis from all angles, using their resources to deliver a positive impact on employee's lives by supporting them in a difficult time, in addition to donating large funds to help communities and organisations. Coupled with their tech innovations to work on prevention of the disease, Apple demonstrated a clear ability to collaborate and make a difference.
Disney, are the world's biggest entertainment group, with TV networks, film studios, hotels, streaming services, resorts and theme parks in their repertoire. They generated nearly $70 billion in revenue last year, but the pandemic has forced them to close their hotels and parks.
Disney’s first move was to donate more than 100,000 medical supplies, with included items like protective shoes and masks, to their local region in France, these were then distributed to hospitals, in coordination with a donation of 77 tonnes of food and drink to the local French Red Cross and other associations tackling hunger and disadvantaged families. In the US they donated 100,000 N95 masks.
Disney created a line of non-medical facemasks, of which they have pledged to donate up to $1 million of the profits to MedShare, they also pledged a further $1 million to the charity, who are focusing on humanitarian aid to those impacted by the pandemic.
The Not So Heroic:
On the 19th of April Disney announced that 100,000 workers will not be paid by them taking the decision to furlough them, thus they will be relying on the government fund to pay employees which could have serious effects on what is ‘left in the pot’ for other businesses, by doing so they will save $50 million per month according to the Financial Times.
Disney have seen some upside during the pandemic, their new streaming service has amassed over 50 million subscribers in just 5 months and they have also kept in place their executive compensation program whilst there are 100,000 workers unpaid by them, the decision to furlough employees whilst their top executives continue on with what is often deemed 'excessive pay' has brought them a lot of criticism.
“One reason Disney is coming under scrutiny is its record of providing lavish rewards for its top brass, such as Mr Iger, who before the crisis had earned about $716m in cash, stock and options gains since becoming chief executive in 2005, according to S&P Global data. Mr Iger has given up the remainder of his $3m base salary for 2020. But his performance-related incentives, worth more than $40m for Mr Iger last year, remain in place — even if many of those criteria will now be harder to achieve.” (Source FT )
Verdict: Whilst everyone could use a little more 'fairytale' and a little less ‘nightmare’ during the pandemic, the decision not to pay workers, amidst the upside Disney were seeing for their streaming services, and the enormous pay packets still being paid to executives, their actions to not support their workers does not seem at all consistent with the family brand they present to the public and therefore has a negative impact on Disney’s sustainability.
Nestlé are a household name, with over 2,000 brands in 180 countries, they are the largest food and beverage company in the world and reported revenue of 92.6CHF billion in 2019.
Nestlé began the pandemic with a CHF 10 million donation to their partner IRFC (International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies). On top of this donation, they gave medical nutrition products and bottled water to communities in need and committed their logistics capabilities to support the IFRC. They also committed to matching like for like, any donations made by employees to the foundation.
Furthermore, Nestlé’s sustainability was shown when they offered guarantees to workers, with all hourly and salaried employees affected by closures or work stoppages being paid in full for a minimum of 12 weeks.
Verdict: Nestlé have stepped up to help as many touchpoints as they can during the pandemic. We can see positive actions and impact for their employees, supply chains and customers. They continue to meet the demands of consumers for both their essential and non-essential products and their philanthropic and operational actions reflect well, their vision: "Nestlé's purpose is enhancing quality of life and contributing to a healthier future." Hero Status: Approved Impact Score: +0.78
14. Coca-Cola Social Impact and Responsibility
Industry: Food and Beverage
Known for their sugary sweet drinks, Coca-Cola have been going since 1892, but it isn't just coke on the menu anymore, they have over 500 brands and operate in 200 countries. Net revenue last year was reported at $37.27 billion.
Read about Coca-Cola sustainability below.
The first visible action we saw from Coca-Cola sustainability values was their decision to shut off their marketing campaigns and channel the money they would have spent into Covid-19 relief efforts.
By the 27th of April, their commitments summed $100 million globally, which encompassed donations, grants ($39 million in grants in 74 countries ) and projects plus their giving of advertising space to NGO and public health authorities to use for communications about safety during the pandemic.
Their bottling partner has also demonstrated that their employees are a priority at this time:
Verdict: Mastercards efforts are focused on building an inclusive recovery from the coronavirus, focusing on the future is equally important and by leveraging on their reach and technology Mastercard is delivering significant impact to communities all over the globe in both the short and long term.
16. Procter and Gamble Social Impact and Responsibility
Industry: Personal Products
The consumer goods giant, recognised for its household brands (think Ariel, Charmin, Crest Toothpaste, Fairy, Oral B, Olay and Pampers) have seen a surge in product demand during the pandemic. Last year they reported sales of $67.7 billion.
P&G also committed to making hand sanitizer and facemasks, many will be used to protect employees in order to keep up with demand pressures, but others will be donated to health authorities and relief organizations, 100,000 masks have been donated so far and they expect to produce 45,000 liters of hand sanitizer per week globally.
Verdict: In a time of heightened awareness for personal hygiene, P&G stepped into action to deliver their products under pressure without compromising employee safety, their efforts to make significant contributions to projects fighting the pandemic will no doubt lead to a positive impact on the health of communities all over the world.
Wells Fargo is an American financial services company and is the fourth largest bank in the world, in 2019 their revenue was reported at $85.06 billion.
Wells Fargo employ approximately 260,000 people and they have committed to supporting them during this time, taken from the impact analysis:
“The company is paying a special compensation to its front-line workers, approximately 170,000 U.S. and international employees. The special payment, $200 per day is paid for branch workers, call-center staff and technology specialists and others who are required to risk their health. Further, the full-time employees (whose annual salary is less than $100,000) would receive a pre-tax payment of $600 and part-time employees would get a $300 bonus.
A range of medical support measures, including Medical Virtual Office visits (telehealth), paid leaves, work-from-home facilities are provided for the employees as well, being a comfort for them during the COVID-19 pandemic, making a very significant positive impact on their lives.”
In addition to this, they announced that they would make a donation of $175 million, which would be spread across several projects. The first being housing stability helping homeowners and renters stay in their homes through foreclosure prevention, helping small businesses through flexible capital and cash boosts and grants to help improve the financial health of those families and individuals whose incomes have been impacted by the pandemic.
The Not so Heroic:
Wells Fargo are amongst a group of the large banks that have been accused of unfairly allocating money given to them via government stimulus for small businesses, having added their own set of parameters, making them more difficult for small businesses to get:
“These banks last week, at such a critical moment, gathered together and decided to slow things down. They limited loans only to customers and credit cardholders. They came up with “new” lending requirements and asked for more documentation over and above SBA guidelines. They capped the amount of loans they would make. The rules aren’t clear, they cried, and we have to work harder!”
Verdict: Could this have been the big banks time to shine? Time totransform public opinion and do nothing but good in the face of a crisis? From the subsequent lawsuits, once again profits over people has been the order of choice, which unfortunately taints all the good initiatives and donations they implemented.
Nike have always been a creative brand when it comes to their products and marketing, and their solution for assistance during the crisis was no less creative. Nike’s social responsibility included transforming their Nike Air shoes and apparel lines into protective face shields for front line workers, the results of the creation have been donated to multiple states in the US.
Outside of donations and PPE Nike continued their message to stay active but also to encourage the world to stay inside, with their marketing campaign “If you ever dreamed of playing for millions around the world, now is your chance.” Aimed at encouraging everyone to #playinside and #playfortheworld. This coincides with their collaboration with the World Health Organisation who launched a physical activity guide to compliment their #healthyathome campaign, with Nike helping them formulate the content.
Verdict: Nike has struck a good balance in their communications during the pandemic, whilst they could have been perceived that their #playfortheworld campaign was purely for their own benefit, it was delivered with value and authenticity, encouraging people to stay home and offering customers the benefits of home workouts through their applications. Nike’s core purpose of 'keeping people active' is working and people around the globe recognise the brands' presence in a positive way during a tough time.
Danone has also committed to different initiatives worldwide in order to help fight the pandemic. Among others, Danone has provided 100,000 bottles of Evian to improve the availability of hydro alcoholic gel in pharmacies in France.
Danone Mexico made yogurt donations to healthcare professionals. Their Evian water brand is also supporting front line workers in hospitals with a donation of 195,000 bottles of Evian. Danone Canada has contributed $200,000 CAD to an emergency fund established by their 25-year partner, Breakfast Club of Canada, to help feed hungry children. Danone US’ Happy Family donated 140,000 servings of organic food and snacks to families in need in New York City area.
Verdict: Although some employees have complained of a lack of masks and protective equipment in Danone’s warehouses near Paris, the company has negotiated with the unions to find a compromise and agreed to support their employees more during the pandemic. We can see that they have shown a strong reactivity in order to ensure the supply of essential products and despite the uncertainty and a potential decrease in sales due to the crisis, they have committed to an important number of concrete initiatives worldwide to fight the virus.
As the initial lockdown came into action Tesla were required to close many of their manufacturing plants, the company announced that they would be cutting pay and furloughing many employees relying on the government to fund these employees with the pay cut expected to last till the end of June. The second news that was announced was that any contract work they had in place would be paused, meaning any temporary workers, hundreds at the time, would be let go.
Verdict: Elon Musk's comments regarding the coronavirus could have a significant impact on many people's willingness to follow the guidelines of the WHO and the government, casting doubt in the mind of millions whether or not the lockdown was the right approach. Musk is widely criticised for his approach, especially for the misinformation he gave to many regarding treatments. In this case, the safety of the people is not coming before profits and we can see very little regarding their assistance during the pandemic, disappointing for a company that strives to deliver innovation.
With over 60,000 different products in the field of worker safety, US health care, and consumer goods, 3M ranked number 95 in the Fortune 500 list of the largest United States corporations by total revenue. Sales in 2019 hit $32.1 billion.
In March 2020, they also launched a hotline and website to help identify and fight fraud, price gouging and counterfeiting of 3M respirators.
On that note, in April 2020 3M filed multiple lawsuits against alleged price-gougers in the US and Canada, while partnering with state attorney generals, and state and federal law enforcement to stop fraud, price-gouging, and counterfeits of 3M respirators.
The first controversy arose because 3M were distributing masks overseas whilst the US was suffering the highest peak in Covid-19 infections with a mask shortage at play. The Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator, Pete Gaynor, stated that the administration would enforce the Defence production act to: "use any and all authority available under the Act to acquire, from any appropriate subsidiary or affiliate of 3M Company, the number of N-95 respirators that the Administrator determines to be appropriate."
Further controversy over their transparency and pricing has come into question with remarks made regarding what 3M charged the government in the past, making taxpayers concerned they will be overpaying for crucial equipment as part of the government contract 3M have been awarded. Taken from the article:
"The company that has been awarded the largest single COVID-19 federal contract once boasted it charged the Defense Department $7.63 for earplugs that cost 85 cents a pair to produce.
That company, 3M, was awarded a $1 billion contract on April 15 for “medical and surgical instruments, equipment and supplies,” by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
(...) What 3M is charging the U.S. government per mask is not publicly available, and 3M would not provide either its production price per mask nor its selling price per mask to the government, to McClatchy."
Verdict: The significant commitment from 3M from a manufacturing perspective and their partnering with the US government demonstrates a clear desire to help during the pandemic. But it seems they have more work to do on distribution to ensure pricing remains fair and transparent.
How can companies move forward, recover and recalibrate in a post-pandemic world?
As business leaders now start the tricky task of navigating some sort of recovery, what will be the new norm for business?
Following the worldwide disruption of the pandemic, piecing back together organisations will involve the re-thinking of supply chains and logistics, reimagining the future of work, human resources, digitalisation, and understanding the post-covid-19 consumer and what their new set of values might be.
The implications for businesses are large and widely unknown, with this and the growing pressure to thrive in a new world, many with hero status on our list today may slip and lose their way and others may find ways to redeem themselves.
It's all fluid, the impact of a business is ever-evolving with every move they make. We hope that brands will reinvigorate themselves with purposeful marketing, mission lead business actions and impact orientated projects.
In fact, these strategies should become, if they are not already, mainstream business practice for those seeking to deliver more than just a profit recovery, but a long term strategy that sets a business up for the future and gives them an advantage over their competition.
Without this drive to deliver a purposeful, positive impact in the months to come, how well-positioned will businesses be to thrive in our new reality?
The answer is simple - those who pay it forward will be remembered for just that.
Will we remember if they hit their end of year numbers?
Will we remember more about how they managed their workers or the support they gave appropriate funds?
I like to think the latter holds a higher priority in the human race's mind.
Perhaps if the answer to this question is that you'd rather a business hit their end of year profit targets, it is us that ought to question why we reward such a model. A model that glorifies profits over people, dividends and share prices over society and revenues over rainforests.
Can't they all work in harmony together?
Playing your Part
As we can see by the 21 corporate cases in this article, many businesses acted quickly, using their agility to reimagine what they do and how they do it. It demonstrates what can be done when the time calls for it and also shows that looking beyond shareholder value can reap benefits for a brand and their identity as an organisation.
Let this be a reminder for all of us, of how such a moment in time brought out the good in these businesses - and in some cases the bad.
In the same way that we hero those front line workers, activists and environmentalists, let's do the same for businesses. Advocate for those making a positive impact, and remove yourself where you can from those having a negative impact, always look for those able to demonstrate their long term values and not merely their ability to generate profit.
Because after all, they ARE listening to us, change can be effective if enough of us are aware of the facts and use this awareness to change our habits and advocacy.
Holding those companies accountable for the good and the bad in their products, actions, ideas and impact is progress.
Our change in behaviour can incite their change, and thus an impact economy seems all the more attainable.
Over to you...
Want to know more about us?
Impaakt is a crowdsourced sustainability platform, measuring the negative and positive social impact and environmental impact measuring the positive and negative environmental and social impact of businesses.
Join the community today and start making a positive social impact!