As the COVID-19 pandemic has undercut economies globally, an increasing number of companies are stepping up to help those in need of vital services. In the process, they are demonstrating the unique role of business in filling systemic governmental funding gaps, as well as the potential for sustainable investors to support such efforts.
Filling Medical Needs
The current crisis has laid bare the deficiencies of the US healthcare system and the vulnerabilities created by pervasive societal inequalities, according to industry observers like Stat and the Lancet. It also serves as a model of the role of business in supporting and supplementing government action. For example, new treatments and vaccines are rapidly being tested by companies like Moderna Therapeutics, Gilead, and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals. Abbott Laboratories and others are ramping up production of much-needed COVID-19 tests.
At the same time, others are shifting gears to help make up for shortages in medical supplies. As companies like 3M fall behind in meeting the demand for N95 masks, sports companies and retail clothing manufacturers started making them. Similarly, car-makers have transitioned some of their resources into producing ventilators.
In addition, the pandemic highlights the role of public-private partnerships in addressing urgent problems, such as the shoring up of the US’s health system infrastructure. That is the reason behind the recent launch of the COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator, a $125 million effort combining the resources of pharmaceutical companies and other corporations, foundations, and NGOs to develop treatments for the disease.
“To make the world safe from outbreaks like COVID-19, we need to find a way to make research and development move faster,” said Mark Suzman, CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, one of the accelerator’s backers, in a recent release. “That requires governments, private enterprise, and philanthropic organizations to act quickly to fund R&D.”
Sustainable investing’s fundamental premise rests on the private sector’s relevance in promoting social good.
Providing Complementary Support
Companies that cannot help in producing medical supplies are responding to the crisis in a variety of ways, such as supporting their employees in these difficult times. An analysis of the 100 largest public employers in the US found that more than one-third have strengthened or established paid sick leave policies, while more than a quarter have continued to compensate hourly employees impacted by closures or service suspensions.
Other businesses aim to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on their customers. Many utilities and telecommunications companies are stopping shutoffs and late fees to help hard-hit consumers. Goldman Sachs, the financial backer of the Apple credit card, is letting cardholders skip their March credit card bill and forgoing interest charges.
JUST Capital’s COVID-19 Corporate Response tracker offers a view into the broad range of other actions companies are taking, from community relief funds to executive paycuts. Many of these actions align with JUST’s five guidelines for companies navigating the crisis.
The COVID-19 crisis does more than underscore the role of business in addressing urgent societal needs. It also helps validate the viability of stakeholder capitalism and the fundamental premise of sustainable investing: that investors can make a difference by supporting companies that promote social good.