Wednesday, 25 March, 2020

The battle against the Covid-19 pandemic is a pivotal moment for humanity. Coronavirus is spreading swiftly across countries, on a scale and magnitude never seen before.

Our lives have changed, with a demonstration of solidarity against a common enemy. We are all in it together.

As the crisis unfolds, the developing narrative suggests that the pandemic is multifaceted in nature. Covid-19 is a personal, business, religious, social, political, economic, national and global issue.

On a global scale, the Covid-19 pandemic is turning economies upside down.

Whereas the top priority of governments is to stop the spread of the virus, track and treat the sick, businesses have a critical role to play in joining government efforts to minimise any further spread and cushion the impact on the economy and livelihoods.

According to a poll conducted by Ipsos earlier this month, it is interesting to note that public concerns on the economic impact of Covid-19, is possibly only second to their own health.

Governments' pronouncements about economic rescue measures do not yet appear to gain the public's confidence.

The recent temporary suspension of trading by the Nairobi Securities Exchange is a possible predictor of depressed financial flows and weakened investor confidence.

The pandemic has also had a negative effect on job security. Several companies are grappling with the government's directive for workers to observe social distancing as a measure against the spread of the virus.

In an effort to mitigate financial risks, some firms are reported to have enforced short-term layoffs and production shut-downs on prorated pay. Some health insurance covers are treating coronavirus as an exclusion.

With the ongoing border closure and lockdown around the world, Kenya's flower industry, which is export-driven is one of the hardest-hit.

The ripple effect has caused the closure of various farms with over 1,000 seasonal workers sent home.

In the face of these grave challenges, what then should businesses do to remain resilient?

As the world's largest corporate sustainability initiative, the United Nations Global Compact is calling on business leaders everywhere to unite in supporting workers, communities and companies affected by the pandemic.

For every decision-maker, the Ten Principles of the UN Global Compact can provide ideas and inspiration in uncertain times.

In upholding their corporate responsibility to respect Human Rights, businesses should ensure that any measures to address Covid-19 is accessible to people without discrimination of any kind.

Further, they should ensure the needs of the most marginalized and/or vulnerable are given the appropriate attention.

For businesses everywhere, ensuring continued productivity is crucial in these turbulent times.

Responsible businesses can respond with flexibility, compassion and solidarity to the impact on their employees and their business partners, especially SMEs.

Their efforts to limit financial impacts should not be made at the expense of workers' rights and welfare. 

They should also apply the principles of prevention and ensure a safe working environment by adhering to the protective measures in the workplace.

With every dark cloud, there's a silver lining. In a very short period of time, the corona crisis has had a positive impact on the environment by reducing pollution and carbon emissions. 

This crisis presents businesses everywhere with an opportunity to track positive environmental impacts of telecommuting and virtual meetings on their carbon footprint in order to assess which practices could be encouraged long-term to reduce emissions.

The challenges of this crisis notwithstanding, we can draw many lessons from the experiences.

The future of businesses will largely depend on their ability to demonstrate responsibility by working closely with government, civil society, medical and research entities and fellow citizens.

This battle is not between people, but one that unites the entire world in our shared humanity.

Written By

By Judy Njino (Executive Director, Global Compact Kenya)