Appeal to Business: Support Each Other, United We Are Stronger
Interview with Salome Zurabishvili, Executive Director of CiDA and Global Compact Network Georgia
How would you assess current engagement of the private sector in prevention of Covid-19 in Georgia?
The private sector SHOULD and IS actively contributing to the fight against COVID-19 in Georgia and around the world. The pandemic has been an immense burden on the world economy and among others, Georgian business is suffering the consequences. It is in the interest of the business sector to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and contribute to the minimization of negative effects of the pandemic on the market, especially on predominantly effected sectors and SMEs. Business has no other choice; the sooner the pandemic is defeated the sooner the business and the economy can start recovering from crisis.
Business is actively contributing financially to the government funds directed towards prevention of COVID-19, which is very much needed, however they can do more. Active communication with employees, partners, contractors, consumers, inquiring their necessities and directing the financial resources towards addressing the salient cases are some of the actions business should be doing more. Businesses employ majority of the population, and have impact on the rest, i.e. customers and consumers. They have leverage that they can efficiently use to prevent the spread of the pandemic and help the economy recover from the grave effects of COVID-19.
I would say, there is lack of coordination, business to business, business to CSOs, business to Academia. Multi-stakeholder coordination and cooperation is principal in dealing with the adverse outcomes of the pandemic. It is important for the prevention of spread of the virus, for assisting the ones in need, however it is also critical in the process of recovering in post-pandemic period.
What should companies do to maintain its employees and how should they protect them from a mass layoff?
One of the biggest challenges for the affected companies is to maintain their employees and ensure their remuneration.
Companies need to adapt to the current reality - is there a demand on the market for the products and services they offer? If not, how can they revise their operations to respond to the present needs. Explore the capabilities of your workforce. Brainstorm with them and find the solutions together. While the pandemic has been a burden on the business, it can be seen as a new opportunity to restructure your business operations and explore new possibilities.
Businesses have also been supporting each other in times of need. While some sectors were particularly hit, the demand for the products and services of others have grown. The companies have been supporting each other, providing the temporary job positions for the employees of their partners, who were not able to retain the staff.
And there are other initiatives that should be available to support business in times of need, such as low-interest, government subsidized loans.
You represent Global Compact local network in Georgia, world’s largest corporate sustainability initiative; what are their recommendations for the companies? What can companies do within their corporate responsibility area in order to make their initiatives profitable for the companies and for the society?
The UN Global Compact, has issued number of recommendations for member companies, calling upon them to unite in response to COVID-19 outbreak. UN Global Compact is based on Ten Principles in the field of human rights, labor, environment and anti-corruption. The issued recommendations are also addressing throse directions.
For example, with regard to labor rights the UNGC calls on business to respond with flexibility, compassion and solidarity to the impact of COV-19 outbreak on their employees and the business partners, especially small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The efforts to limit financial impacts should not be made at the expense of workers’ rights and welfare.
In addition, Global Compact recommends the business to honor current contracts to the greatest extent possible. Engagement with suppliers is essential to ensure decent working conditions in global supply chains while providing support for business continuity by allowing flexibility in delivery and quotas.
To see the Special Appeal from UNGC to the business sector in response to COVID-19 outbreak you can visit the UN Global Compact webpage at: www.unglobalcompact.org
Businesses are getting active worldwide; could you name some examples how the international brands respond to the Covid-19 crisis?
Depending on the sector of operations the business responds to the outbreak in different ways.
Besides the financial contribution to different government coordinated funds and / or charities companies contribute through their services and products.
Google is partnering with the U.S. government in developing a website dedicated to COVID-19 education, prevention, and local resources nationwide. Dior has dedicated its production site Saint-Jean-De-Braye to manufacture large quantities of hydroalcoholic gel for free delivery to the French health authorities. While IKEA had to close stores, company pledged to continue to support co-workers through its comprehensive benefits package and paid leave policy. Unilever will contribute €100m to help the fight against the pandemic through donations of soap, sanitizer, bleach and food. The company will offer €500m of cash flow relief to support livelihoods across its extended value chain, through early payment for their most vulnerable small and medium sized suppliers, to help them with financial liquidity.
Is there any message you would like to convey to the Georgian businesses?
Coordinate your efforts in response to COVID-19 with business partners, government, civil society and other relevant stakeholders. United we are stronger.