Has COVID-19 Impacted Corporate Social Responsibility in Asia?
COVID-19 has undeniably affected many businesses across various industries on a global level. Since the pandemic struck, many business owners have had to cut back on expenses, with some making tough decisions to downsize, reduce or cease operations, or even declare bankrupt. In the struggle to keep businesses going during these trying time, corporate social responsibilities (CSR) has had to take a backseat or be recalibrated, especially by companies that were severely affected by the pandemic.
According to the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation, CSR is defined as a “management concept whereby companies integrate social and environmental concerns in their business operations and interactions with their stakeholders”. Businesses and organisations would engage in a cause that matters to them and align with their corporate identity, implementing strategies to give back to or advance that cause. CSR has taken significant importance to businesses as consumers are more inclined to patronise companies that do their part to make a difference.
Within Asia, CSR has today taken significant importance compared to a few decades ago. Compared to the Western world, Asia had been slower in implementing CSR initiatives. Countries such as China, Japan, Hong Kong, South Korea, and Taiwan are coming on board in recent years. In Singapore, it is reported that 89% of companies partake in philanthropic activities, giving back to the community in cash contributions, donations and so on.
However, the pandemic has forced many businesses to recalibrate their CSR initiatives, focusing internally rather than externally. Before the pandemic, many businesses’ CSR activities revolve around human rights, environmental protection, gender equality, and the likes. But the pandemic has forced these issues to take a momentary backseat as companies focus on those closest to them.
One such example is Singapore Airlines, an organisation that partook in many different CSR initiatives, such as a charity flight for Singapore’s Community Chest beneficiaries, rainforest conservation project, plastic reduction efforts and more. When the pandemic struck Singapore, Singapore Airlines was severely affected as most of its flights were grounded due to the travel halts.
In its Sustainability 2019/2020 report, Singapore Airlines reported that much of its CSR efforts were grounded in ensuring that employees were extended as much help as possible through job support programmes, financial support, upskilling efforts, and more. While the organisation prioritised its people and executed CSR initiatives that aimed to get the organisation through the pandemic, other external measures such as helping the underprivileged communities abroad or had to be reduced in its scale.
Similarly, in Malaysia, CSR efforts by businesses have turned towards Malaysians. For example, in 2020, Sunway Group has announced that they were rolling out more than RM34 million (US$ 8.1 million) to help Malaysians through the pandemic, allocating RM300,000 to (US$ 71,500) aid the B40 communities, which comprises households in the bottom 40% income groups. The conglomerate also assigned a substantial amount of about RM12 million (US$ 2.86 million) to subsidise treatment costs for government patients referred to their medical facilities by the Ministry of Health.
Similarly, other companies such as Coway Malaysia, Axiata Group, Berjaya Corporation Berhad and I-Berhad, amongst many others, have contributed through financial support schemes, supply of essential items such as masks and sanitisers, or even necessities and food aid to those in need.
COVID-19 has brought about a shift in CSR initiatives, as companies look inwards instead of outwards for their efforts. While this has caused external CSR projects to be scrapped or placed on hold, it is a necessary effort that organisations must adopt to ensure their sustainability first and foremost. These internal CSR initiatives counter initial anticipation that CSR efforts will be “wiped out”. It is believed that post-pandemic, as businesses recover from the pandemic fatigue, more will engage in CSR projects as its importance has been significantly highlighted through the pandemic.
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