The economic devastation of the coronavirus pandemic exposed systemic faults that have affected millions of North Americans. The numbers below reveal how the current form of capitalism fails to work for many of us — and why a more equitable, inclusive and resilient economy is needed to ensure a sustainable future for people, planet and business.
While one in four American workers have filed for unemployment during the pandemic, U.S. billionaires continued to build their wealth, gaining $434 billion. Amid these gains for the ultra-wealthy, the least fortunate feel the heaviest effects: Half of low-income Americans have lost their jobs, and only a quarter of them have enough emergency funds to cover expenses for three months. In Canada, the number of unemployed Canadians has more than doubled since February, to close to 3 million, although May brought a slight increase in employment.
Remote work also reveals a racial, economic and professional divide. Many essential workers also are low-wage earners who must continue to go to their workplace and are less likely to have benefits like health coverage. People of Color make up more than a third of those in essential jobs, further raising their risk of exposure to the coronavirus. Those who were able to work remotely before the pandemic — and were more likely to do so during stay-home orders — tend to be higher-paid managers or white-collar employees, and are more likely to be white than People of Color.
As a health crisis, the pandemic also has long-term implications for those affected physically and mentally by COVID-19. A health guideline to “stay home if you feel sick” may be easier said than done for the quarter of U.S. workers who lack paid sick leave. And the mental health toll may only be beginning: A third of Americans now show signs of clinical anxiety or depression, according to the Census Bureau, up from 25% before the pandemic. Rates of anxiety and depression are far higher among younger adults, women and the poor. In Canada, a survey found that 20% of people reported symptoms consistent with moderate or severe anxiety.
And for People of Color, the health numbers are more devastating. Among those with severe complications from coronavirus, Black patients were nearly three times more likely to be hospitalized than white patients, often because they are more likely to have pre-existing conditions — which also are linked with socioeconomic status—like diabetes or heart disease that lead to more severe COVID-19 cases.
The Benefits of Stakeholder Engagement
These unprecedented challenges are likely to persist and evolve, requiring businesses to balance the bottom line with supports and protections for workers and to delve deeper into their work to advance justice, equity, diversity and inclusion, referred to in short as JEDI.
Stakeholder engagement — the involvement of all of those who are impacted by a business and our economic structures, including workers — offers a roadmap for businesses to be more inclusive and resilient, and to build a network of support for the people and places that companies rely upon. By creating and following policies that prioritize the bottom line as well as multiple stakeholders — workers, community, customers, environment — Certified B Corporations are innovating to build a more sustainable business foundation and create strong, loyal bonds with workers and customers.
New resources from B Lab provide guidance and best practices for companies as they navigate COVID-19 and shape workplaces of the future. The first is one in a series of guides to manage the specific impacts of COVID-19 and support your stakeholders through a JEDI lens and features real-world examples of how B Corps are addressing the COVID-19 challenges:
- Shea Moisture, a skincare company in New York, created a $1 million fund to support women entrepreneurs and small business owners of color during COVID-19. With the fund, the B Corp will award cash to businesses supporting their communities during COVID-19, provide grants to black businesses, and create an e-learning platform for women of color entrepreneurs.
- Tony’s Chocolonely, a chocolate company headquartered in the Netherlands, is spreading awareness about COVID-19 and promoting and supporting preventive health measures for cocoa farmers in its supply chain in places like Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire. Social distancing measures are more challenging for these workers, who live in small houses with extended families, have no way to stock up on groceries for long periods of time, and use communal water points.
- In the wake of anti-racism protests in the U.S. in May 2020, North Coast Organics, a personal care product company headquartered in the United States, publicly disclosed the diversity of its staff, pay ranges, and hiring practices, and made a commitment to internal conversations about race.
A separate new downloadable report highlights B The Change articles from and about B Corps and their learnings on ways to redefine success in business: by addressing social and environmental injustices, and by caring for all the people and places a company touches through its operations.
The report, “The Future of Work Is Now,” includes real-world lessons and programs from B Corps that benefit workers as well as businesses and demonstrate how incorporating stakeholder engagement can redefine and reshape capitalism for the better. Highlights range from worker-owned cooperatives to financial wellness programs for employees to innovative hiring practices that provide opportunities for refugees or formerly incarcerated people:
- Outdoor brand Cotopaxi, a B Corp based in Salt Lake City, Utah, created a short-term employment program for refugees designed to help them adapt to life in a new home while gaining experience and references for future employment. Annie Agle of Cotopaxi says the program expands on the B Corp’s founding impact focus to alleviate poverty and help displaced people — around the globe and in Utah. “Locally we feel obligated to do what we can — right here, right now,” she says.
- Greyston Bakery, a pioneer of Open Hiring, brings on new employees through a no-questions-asked process that provides opportunities for people who might otherwise struggle to find a job. The Yonkers, New York-based B Corp bakery has opened the Center for Open Hiring, which provides education and training, advisory services, and research and programs to spread the word. At the bakery, employee Lamont Dandridge found a stable income, meaningful work, and a more purposeful life. “I’m trying to learn everything here. There’s nothing but forward motion.”
- At B Corp Rhino Foods, the financial benefits for workers go beyond a paycheck. Founder and CEO Ted Castle created a program that’s now known as Income Advance that provides quick access to loans of up to $1,000 for emergencies or other unplanned needs. Employees build a credit history in the process, and once the loan is paid off they can continue to have the automatic deductions go into a savings account. “We were losing some of our best people,” Castle says. “So we decided to do something about it. It’s one thing to hang a sign on the wall saying ‘Our employees are our most valuable asset;’ it’s another to prove it by helping to solve their problems.”
While engaged employees boost business results, they also lead happier and healthier lives and are more likely to stay with a company rather than seek a job elsewhere — holistic benefits that are a bonus beyond a paycheck. As Ratsamy Pathammavong of B Corp Ramp Communications says, “Everyone around me shares those values and vision for positive transformative change. But I also get to work in a nimble, entrepreneurial, innovative workplace.”
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