Photo: Mahmud Hossain Opu/Dhaka Tribune

A time to give back

The pandemic arising out of the spread of a deadly virus, seemingly, to my mind, has strengthened the helping attitudes of humans towards other humans.
We have become more charitable, willing to spend to help others. We are helping others more than we used to in the past.
We have already seen how our physicians, health workers, law enforcers, armed forces, media professionals, banking professionals, cleaning professionals, delivery men and women, suppliers, and many others fight this “unreal” situation from the frontlines, shouldering their responsibilities with integrity and willingness. The notion of responsibility runs high at the moment.
So, “responsibility” is a big issue in this difficult time. We humans live in a society and feel the urge to shoulder social responsibilities. Let’s not think about those who don’t feel it. Most people do. We have already seen how the citizens of a nation-state can be more giving.
A number of citizens are anonymously leaving food items for the starved at a certain place so that the poor can take them. An admirable aspect of our societal advancement.
The trend of individual donations is increasing. Innumerable civil organizations are seen raising funds in order to feed the poor.
The companies are also not lagging behind. Many banks have contributed large amounts to the prime minister’s relief fund. I know of a bank whose employees have donated their two-day salary to an emergency food supply campaign. Some other banks have officially arranged for food for the needy. Many other sectors are more or less doing the same.
What we are doing right now in terms of social responsibility is actually what we would have done in a pre-pandemic situation. The theme of this piece is to imagine the post-pandemic scenario in terms of corporate social responsibility (CSR), now termed as corporate responsibility (CR) in some countries and corporate social innovation (CSI) in some.
The work ahead seems insurmountable. This pandemic has led to millions of job losses. Many are scared of losing their jobs. We have been hearing news of layoffs across the world, including Bangladesh.
I believe the first focus of a company’s responsibilities is to protect its employees. Laying off resources is easy, but protecting their jobs is a responsibility. Even if some employees are laid off, the company will need to ensure looking after them. This act of responsibility will be remembered by the others and they will be more loyal and productive in the future.
Business-owners will have to recognize their staff as communities in and of themselves. By taking care of the workers with the right level of care, they will be setting more examples for the future.
The apparel sector in Bangladesh has raised a question in this regard.
If this sector is one of the saviours of the Bangladesh economy, it has to behave like one. It will also have to save its workers — who are very poorly paid.
The apparel exporters are certainly going through a tough time now due to cancellation of orders by the foreign buyers. That doesn’t mean that their workers have to starve and remain unpaid during this difficult time. In the future, RMG factory owners may have to think more seriously about their workers.
Let me give you an example. The telecom companies of the country, every month, contribute a percentage of their profit to a government fund named Social Obligatory Fund (although we’re not sure what the government does with the fund).
The apparel businesses with the leadership of BGMEA may create a similar fund to help their workers in need.
If we summarize the areas in which Bangladeshi companies tread in terms of CSR, we find activities in the fields of environment, health care, education, technology, food charity, and sponsoring countless get-togethers and reunions of various alumni societies.
They contribute quite a lot. But the unfortunate fact is that their money is spent to heal the damages that we do to our environment and public health. I believe they should work at the policy level so that the environment is not damaged, and people can stay healthy normally.
The companies have contributed in various kinds of hospitals such as cancer, kidney, tuberculosis, and diabetes hospitals.
They didn’t focus on building more hospitals and connecting all the hospitals together. I believe the tech companies, such as the telecoms, may play a big role in connecting all the hospitals and clinics of the country.
At the same time, the state of health care providers in Bangladesh is unfortunate. The companies may have to think of equipping them properly, as well as ensuring better health care services.
When it comes to spending on get-togethers and reunions, a big question can be raised. This is an utterly unproductive way of spending hard-earned money. This practice should totally stop.
Let me finish this piece by pointing out another aspect of society. The economy could be in dire straits now and in the next few years. The next few years may be a time for austerity as the masses will need to lead a minimalistic life.
The people need to be taught that they should stay away from buying-sprees even if they have money.
Teaching the masses to save money could be another way of shouldering financial responsibility. The businesses may think of working with the government in this respect.
A change in CSR-related thinking is the need of the hour.
First published in Dhaka Tribune.

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