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Time to pursue effective CSR commitment in post COVID-19

‘Money belongs to you, but resources belong to the society’.

With growing awareness about corporate social responsibility (CSR) among stakeholders, achieving social goals is as important as delivering shareholder value and profitability. Corporate Social Responsibility or CSR is a concept that aims to make a company socially accountable to itself, its stakeholders, and the public at large. Through their CSR practices, companies are conscious of the kind of impact they have on all aspects of society including economic, social, and environmental. It is a way of giving back to the society for the various resources it uses to run its business.

The COVID-19 pandemic has provided an opportunity for companies to show how resilient and well prepared they are to manage risks and acclimatize to new conditions. Faced with unprecedented tensions, organizations must question themselves about their objectives and operations. It is equally important for current situation as well as to be prepared and anticipate for future challenges, calamities and crises. Every cloud has a silver lining. The COVID-19 has provided an opportunity to organizations to rethink the corporate responsibility.

They must ask themselves that how can they give back to their stakeholders and to society while acclimatizing to their innovative communication approaches? How organization can they forestall and antedate and manage risks?

COVID-19 has brought many lapses to surface:

  • Cosmetic Compliances

Most of the organization was doing some kind of eye-washing and were practicing superficial and unrealistic rudimentary and primitive initiatives, which have no real impact on core issues and investments to society and the environment. These are the so-called “cosmetic” CSR initiatives. The foremost lesson to be learned from this crisis is that CSR compliance is not enough for organizations to be prepared for the problems that can affect their operations and society in general.

Very few companies who were able to foresee, forestall systems across the workforces. Even, companies practicing flexibility at work practicing various technical tools and working methodologies also found it difficult to set up rapid and functional remote working mechanisms. It is now vital to generate a level of trust among long stakeholders. It is now the call of the day that relevant augmented resources be provided to CSR departments, empowering them to develop projects related to the organization’s core business rather than cosmetic actions.

  • Flexibility

Flexibility at work is not just a matter of having upright reputation or attracting new talent. The companies best prepared for their employees to work from home were those that had previously encouraged their staff to work remotely and learned what worked best. Though, it is not possible for all the job positions but for many management and allied support positions, working remotely is useful.

  • CSR is nor a luxury

Obliviously, CSR is not a luxury; contrary to the preaching of capitalism movement. The CSR departments have to play a fundamental during and after this pandemic. However, now the companies will have to rethink the way they have been operating and create more responsible cultures. They have to rebuild organizations internally and train the managers to understand the ethics charter or to create reasonable internal practices. The companies having more committed, reacting and adapting employees, it much easier to have confidence to work remotely. Moreover, a culture of responsibility seems all the more essential in these troubled times. Creating a strong corporate culture is equally important for an organization company to demonstrate the value within its organizational ecosystem. To create such culture where everyone is more tolerant, inclusive, supportive and resilient; the equity, salary justice, trust-based management practices are very vital.

The impact on CSR

It has been observed that some firms/retailers have tried to profiteering from this crisis. Unavoidably this crisis has put companies under test for its commitment to ethical business conduct and CSR. The financial strains have caused by the outbreak could significantly pushed firms to pursue short-term gains, sometimes even through fraud and misconduct and reduce long-term CSR investment. This is due to lack of slack resources and mounting pressure for survival. However, it has been observed that many companies not only have resisted unethical business practice during this crisis, but also have proactively engaged in various CSR activities, particularly those that can offer immediate help and assistance to the fight against the virus. A firm’s genuine and authentic CSR will build stronger rapport among its customers and the general public, as they have built up strong expectation from leading brands, particularly their favorable brands, during the current crisis with regard to their efforts in combating the virus. Consumers would feel proud of their brands helping their employees, donating money and equipment during the crisis. The bond established between the brand and consumer during this crisis era can be more meaningful and lasting than during “peaceful” times. Therefore, COVID-19 pandemic offers great opportunities for companies to actively engage with their CSR strategies and agendas. Therefore, a more optimistic view is that COVID-19 pandemic will accelerate post-pandemic CSR development in the long run, as more and more firms and businesses realize that their long-term survival and development hinges on achieving a delicate balance between profitability and harmony with its various stakeholders. Probably the more relevant and pressing question is not about whether to invest in CSR or not, but more about how to invest in CSR to achieve the mutually beneficial and interdependent social/environmental and economic goals. The pandemic will teach us a lesson that “we are all in this together”, which undoubtedly will raise people’s expectation of businesses being more socially responsible. Therefore, we can envision the post-pandemic period as a one that the thriving businesses are those with strong CSR commitment and effective CSR strategies and efficient implementations.

 

Consumer ethics

The COVID-19 pandemic, as an unprecedented situational and contextual factor, has significant implications for the understanding on consumer ethical decision making during the pandemic as well as potentially post-pandemic in the long run. During the pandemic, numerous consumers are grounded to their homes with limited external access except the internet, due to lockdown and other social distancing measures. Consumer decision making can be irrational during crises like current pandemic, as evidenced by stockpiling of food, medicines, hygiene and sanitation products, and even toilet papers all over the world. Some might argue that, panic buying, including stockpiling. It is the perfectly rational consumer behavior during crises like this with a significantly high level of uncertainty. It seems that consumer decision making is currently driven purely by self-interest and emotions, such as fear, anger, and anxiety. This has forced the supermarkets to take measures such as rationing and designating opening hours for key workers and seniors. On the other hand, consumers have exhibited many altruistic behaviors during the pandemic, including resisting panic buying and buying groceries for vulnerable residents. Therefore this crisis provides an excellent opportunity to examine the interplay between personal and situational/contextual factors in influencing consumer ethical decision, including the factors relating to the nature and ongoing situations of the pandemic at the contextual level, and personal factors, such as consumer personality differences, rationality, and consumer emotions such as fear, anxiety, animosity, and positive emotions such as hope. The pandemic has given opportunity and time to the consumers to reflect on the basic meaning of consumption and the impact of their consumption not just on themselves but on others and the general society and the environment. Before the pandemic, consumers in the developed world have taken for granted how their basic needs, such as food and shelter, can be easily met through the wide availability of various products and services that can help meet those needs. Actually consumers were “spoilt” with “choice overload”. Moreover, consumption is also driven by consumers’ pursuit of goods and services that can help meet their higher social (e.g., social belonging and self-esteem) and self-actualization needs. At the same time it changes consumers’ perspective on how to pursue higher social and self-actualization needs. There is likely to be a significant shift towards responsible and prosocial consumption in the sense that consumers consciously reflect on how to consume and make product/brand choices to be more responsible to themselves, others, the society, and the environment. The pandemic is teaching consumers a lesson that we are interconnected in terms of the impact of our product/brand choices, therefore we should be conscious of those choices. Consumers will be more likely to judge themselves or others to form a fundamental evaluation of ones’ self-concepts (consumer identity) based on their responsible consumption and prosocial product/brand choices.

Another potential area with an increase in consumption is health and wellness. The immediate increase in purchase and consumption relates nutrition and medical products, such as vitamin supplements, pain relievers, fever reducers, and so on, that have direct link to the novel coronavirus. The more interesting question is to what extent consumers shifts to more consumption of health and wellness products in the long run.

Last word

Businesses need to have clear processes and methods in place to effectively manage CSR and plan their communications strategies during a crisis. While CSR should never be about bragging and self-promotion, companies have a responsibility to communicate to their stakeholders what they are doing. Knowing how to effectively do so is a crucial part of a successful CSR strategy. It is evident that COVID-19 pandemic is having a significant impact on consumer ethical decision making during the pandemic. Given that the pandemic is likely to last for a significant period of time on a global scale, its impact is likely to be long lasting after the pandemic, however, it is going to end. Consumers have cultivated some habits, particularly relating to increasingly salient role of the ethical dimension in their decision making, some of these habits will likely stick or even fundamentally shift towards more responsible and prosocial consumption.

The author, Mr. Nazir Ahmed Shaikh, is a freelance columnist. He is an academician by profession and writes articles on diversified topics. He could be reached at [email protected]

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