How can companies ease society's post-pandemic pains?
September 18, 2021. Shanghai – The pandemic has caused great disruption, but has also created opportunities to change for the better, according to the CEIBS Corporate Social Responsibility White Paper 2021.
The latest edition of the annual report looks how COVID-19 has affected various individual areas within the realm of CSR and gives insights into how firms can deal with these difficulties, whilst staying true to their social commitments.
The economic challenges created by COVID-19 have piled on top of the already existing environmental crisis which was the focus of many CSR discussions before the pandemic. This has tested companies and markets in a way not seen since the upheaval of the 2008 global financial crisis.
Amongst other things, this year’s CEIBS CSR report looks at how COVID-19 has accelerated corporate resilience (the ability to recover from adversity and gain renewed strength) and what this means for responsible leadership.
Developing a robust mind-set needed to deal with the challenges of the pandemic is important for companies, who are now more in need of building resilience and cultivating repair capabilities than at any other time.
“At a point when society and the environment are undergoing profound changes, only companies with resilience can stand their ground, and have better odds of grasping opportunities and keeping up with the times,” says CEIBS Professor Emeritus Lydia Price, one of the authors of the white paper.
What will the new post-COVID CSR normal look like? As we move past the pandemic, firms should take on more social responsibilities. To this end, recent developments in China’s financial environment have moved in a positive direction.
Building a strong business to benefit society
One of the companies highlighted in the report, Fosun International, makes conscious and targeted efforts to communicate and cultivate its philosophy at every level via a humanistic approach.
Fosun International Chairman and CEIBS Global CEO 2006 alum Guo Guangchang emphasises that a strong company culture is a key component of any CSR policy, and should include a focus on values such as “self-improvement, teamwork, performance, and contributing to society.”
In 2020, the outbreak of COVID-19 saw the company live up to its values, first by offering aid to the stricken Chinese city of Wuhan, and then by providing resources in the global fight against the virus – a valuable example of CSR in action, not just on paper.
Some of Fosun’s other CSR efforts focus on responsible procurement, employee health and safety, and introducing the use of environmental, social, and governance indicators in investment decisions.
Can CSR actually pay?
Fosun’s experiences are ground breaking in many ways – but to what extend do firms actually gain from CSR? The concept of corporate social responsibility has evolved over the years. It started out as a vague philosophy that companies have moral obligations or behaviours that they “should” do, even if such things did not deliver immediate and obvious benefits. But is the landscape shifting?
Research highlighted in the report suggests that thanks to changing attitudes in both the boardroom and society at large, including consumer expectations, implementing a good CSR policy can bring strong strategic benefits for all concerned.
“Whether in terms of quantity or quality, the CSR activities of listed Chinese companies show positive growth, and their standards are being geared to international ones,” says CEIBS Professor of Finance and Accounting Oliver Rui, another one of the white paper’s co-authors.
Taking the belief that people are a company’s most valuable resource as a given, a comprehensive CSR policy can also benefit firms individually in terms of employee well-being.
As CEIBS Professor of Management Kim Tae-Yeol explains, the impact of the pandemic on human resources cannot be overstated. Moreover, caring for employees should be considered an essential aspect of CSR policy.
“Managers should understand the detailed needs of every single employee and adjust their job responsibilities accordingly to keep them positive, enthusiastic and engaged,” he says.
The future of CSR
This year’s CSR report plots an open and exciting future for CSR, one which includes a broadening of both its definition and ability to reach more aspects of society and touch the lives of ordinary people by moving beyond tried and tested areas such as “sustainability” and “responsible business.”
The future of CSR may be one which powers all manner of positive change in the aftermath of the pandemic, from helping employees work from home to helping governments strike a balance between development and environmental protection to solving the world’s biggest problems such as poverty and pollution.