Of late, many large companies have come forward to join the fight against Covid-19 to contribute to the national goals of saving lives and protecting livelihoods.
Welcome as such a step is, it would probably be in the fitness of things that giant enterprises resist the urge, however great it may be, to leverage their charitable activities for the purpose of brand-building or to flaunt their goodness to various categories of stakeholders.
Trying to take advantage of a crisis, and that too one as deadly as Covid, to shore up the image of a company through attempts to publicise acts of charity/philanthropy would not be in keeping with the principles of stakeholder capitalism that business organizations swear by these days. Seemingly appearing to make a song and dance about good acts either to win brownie points over competitors on the goodwill scale or be considered the benchmark of a model corporate citizen may also likely pose the risk of their generous deeds losing much of the gloss currently associated with these.
Extraordinary circumstances call for our humanity to come to the fore. Expecting returns for charitable actions in any form, even if that be an implicit expectation of a demonstrable show of gratitude from the beneficiaries, would not be proper when selflessly doing good is what is now expected of everybody (individuals and companies).
While it is understandable that some companies to comply with regulatory requirements may need to disclose financial spends on charitable purposes to the requisite authorities and mention that fact in their annual reports, the decision on whether to gloat over acts of charity is one that rests firmly with the managements at individual companies. Enterprises do not need to tom-tom their good deeds to the whole world unless they want to.
On the livelihoods front, businesses, this time around, should play a more proactive role in instilling confidence among the migrant labourers that they employ so that they do not feel any compulsion to return to their native places.
As the biggest beneficiaries of the work put in by migrant labourers at manufacturing and construction sites, for example, and even in several service sector operations, companies, in fact, owe it to themselves to put on their thinking hats to instil faith among this key segment of the workforce to ensure business continuity and keep wage bills in check. Migrant labourers in many parts of the country are often paid only the stipulated minimum wages.
Being more transparent with their white-collar employees about the nature and extent of the challenges that the present Covid wave may have on the operations of companies is also something that should be at the top of the agenda of enterprise owners and the senior managers they employ. If hard choices are being considered, employees should be informed about this sufficiently in advance so that they are better prepared mentally to handle any decision that may affect them adversely. The lessons learned from last year should not be forgotten while taking employee-related decisions.
Even as Covid has been a huge disruptor for everyone, it has also at the same time presented Indian companies with a fantastic opportunity to settle the debate once and for all whether they can truly be a force for good. Their actions over the next few weeks and months could make for a great show and tell in this regard.
(The author is Advisor at the Gurgaon-based advisory on communications and stakeholder advocacy R M Consulting. Views expressed are personal, and do not necessarily reflect those of Outlook Magazine.)