Excellence in Corporate Citizenship on Display in the Coronavirus Crisis

by Hank Boerner – Chair & Chief Strategist – G&A Institute and the G&A team   — starting a new conversation about the corporate and investor response the coronavirus crisis…this is the beginning….

These are the times when actions and reactions to crisis helps to define the character of the corporation and shape the public profiles of each of the corporate citizens. For companies, these are not easy times.

Many important decisions are to be made, many priorities set in an environment of unknown unknowns — and there are many stakeholders to be taken care of.  

Employees – Customers – Suppliers – Regulators – Partners – Investors – Lenders – Communities – Civic Leadership.

We are in the age of the stakeholder – beyond the long-time focus on investors only (the Milton Friedman school of shareholder primacy).

Setting the challenge before corporate leaders for us, The New York Times in a story by Jim Tankersley and Ben Casselman, we read:

“Economists fear that by the time the coronavirus pandemic subsides and economic activity resumes, entire industries could be wiped out, proprietors across the country could lose their businesses and millions of workers could find themselves jobless.”

As the Federal government rushes to aid the American society, CEO Chuck Robbins of Cisco put things in perspective in the story: “It’s critical that D.C. do something fast for companies – if you get 80 percent right today, it’s better than waiting a week and getting it 90% right.”

The good news:  Corporations are not waiting – decisions are being made quickly and action is being taken to protect the enterprise – no easy task while protecting the corporate brand, the reputation for being a good corporate citizen, watching out for the investor base and the employee base — and all stakeholders.

We’re starting this commentary in the first week of the crisis breaking through the barriers of doubt and with reality setting in. What are companies doing? How will the decisions made at the top in turn affect the company’s employees, customers, hometowns, suppliers, other stakeholders? Stay tuned.

* * * * * * * *

March 20, 2020 – Day Four of the National Shutdown in the Coronavirus Crisis…

Outdoor Heroes and Timberland

(The firm is well known for its shoes and boots and out-of-doors gear)

Message to Consumers
At Timberland, we’ve always cared deeply about nature and people.
With this great passion, comes the responsibility to protect the health and well-being of our community. For this reason, to help slow the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus and minimize impact, we’ve decided to temporarily close our stores. All retail employees at these locations will continue to receive full pay and benefits during the closure period.

In the meantime, we can stay in touch through our social channels and your can shop from home at our online store with free shipping.
As an outdoor brand, it’s hard for us to suggest that you stay home, but for now it’s advised. Perhaps use this time to plan your next outdoor adventure. Nature will wait for us. #NATURENEEDSHEROES (end)

* * * * * * * *

Amazon – Hiring Underway in the Dark Valley of Layoff Land

The giant internet retailer Amazon is set on hiring 100,000 workers for warehouse and delivery services to help the company meet the delivery demand during the crisis period. This could be a relief for workers laid off in key industries – restaurants, hospitality, airlines, amusement parks, and other service industry categories.

The company will create both full and part-time positions, paying a minimum of $15 per hour to $17 per hour in the USA, with similar raises in Canada, the UK and EU states.

* * * * * * * *

Delivering All Those Packages – FedEx on the Line

FedEx says it will not require recipient to physically sign for deliveries during the crisis in the USA. The company has set up COVID-19 safety page for information: https://www.fedex.com/en-us/coronavirus.html

* * * * * * * *

Paying for Those Deliveries — Chase Bank for Business – Adjusting Branch Hours

Chase Bank notified customers today that branch hours may be adjusted (for in-person or ATM visits). The bank encourages customers to use the Chase Mobil App (bank from anywhere). The bank explains that the branch teams are using EPA-approved disinfectants for cleaning ATM screens and key pads for customer safety.

“Chase for Business” has a “Business recovery page” for the latest information. Chase is encouraging customers to tune in to the advice at: https://recovery.chase.com/customers  — to keep their contact information current and up to date.

* * * * * * * *

Valley Bank – Relief for Customers — From the Regional Bankcorp Serving New York, New Jersey, Florida and Alabama.

Announcing Relief Measures:

  • The bank will be increasing debit and credit card limits.
  • Increasing the funds held in ATMs for easy access to cash.

For eligible customers (consumer and business) – the invitation is out to connect with the Valley representative to discuss interest and principal deferrals; waiver of overdraft charges; waiver of penalties for early CD withdrawals for emergencies; increased loan limits.

Valley is an SBA lender and will implement the federal government’s emergency plans. Bancorp has total of US$37.5 assets.

* * * * * * * *

Grubhub – We’ll Save Restaurants $100 Million in the Crisis

CEO / Founder Matt Maloney told CNN that the firm is temporally suspending collection of up to US$100 million in commission fees for delivery etc that the firm collects from vendors.

Grubhub services more than 350,000 restaurants of all types, including McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Subway. But of the total, some 80% are locally-owned businesses.

The announcement was made in Chicago with Mayor Lori Lightfoot and local restaurant owners present and participating.

* * * * * * * *

Information That Board Members Need in the Crisis

The National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD) is the premier board member professional organizations; both individual and full board membership is offered, as well as membership for board advisors. This is an educational- and informational-focused peer organization for the board room.

For the crisis, NACD is offering limited access to “NACD Directors Daily”® -that is usually for members only; this also has links for board members to access key COVID-19 resources.
For information: Matt Barone, Director, Board Development – www.NACDonline.org

* * * * * * * *

What is Happening in the Distant Work Site? Verité is the Checker

Verité, the supply chain audit company, communicates that its team members are now working from home and that all offices are closed. The program and project work continues with remote connecting.

The work that usually involves group visits to factories, farms or other worksites is now suspended. Verité is collaborating with funders, partners, clients, other stakeholders to determine the way forward such as adjusting the programs to protect its team members.

The organization notes: This, as vulnerabilities of workers worldwide are increasing. The firm will be back in full swing as soon as “trusted authorities” say that it is OK.

* * * * * * * *

Burlington Retail Stores – Open But Watching Carefully

Burlington Stores, Inc. (NYSE:BURL) is a well-known retailer of off-price high-quality, branded apparel (and toys, gifts, home goods) with 700-plus stores across the United States (in 47 states and Puerto Rico).

The corporate offices are closed in New Jersey so employees could work at home, and stores’ hours are reduced with evaluation going on about the retail, local store operations.

Today, 100 stores have been closed. The Fortune 500® company “is carefully managing expenses, inventory receipts, capex and balance sheet.

* * * * * * * *

Update For Greater New York City – Business and Government Partnerships in the five boroughs (counties) of the city.

City Council Member Brad Lander (D-Brookyn) shared this news today:

Essential Businesses: Governor Andrew Cuomo has expanded on business closures. Restaurants, bars and cafes may only serve food take-out and delivery. Gyms, theaters and many other establishments have been ordered to close.

Gatherings of over 50 people are prohibited. (Later reduced further.)

Yesterday, Governor Cuomo ordered that all non-essential businesses reduce their workforce by 50%. He said that essential businesses would include health-care providers, grocery and food production, pharmacies, shipping, media, warehousing, utilities, banks and related financial institutions, and other industries critical to the supply chain.

Everyone is encouraged to work from home wherever possible.

Schools: NYC Schools (with one millions students, largest system in the USA) are closed this week as teachers prepare for distance learning. Grab-and-go meals are available for students between 7:30 and 1:30 am at any public school.

Next week, some schools will open as enrichment centers to provide childcare, food and support for children of essential workers and those who cannot stay home.

Some online learning resources are already available here. NYC is buying and giving out laptops for students who do not have access to technology at home (people can fill out the form to request tech).

Spectrum  is making internet access free for those who do not already have it for the next two months.

Spectrum is service of the franchise holder – Charter Communications, Inc. – the NYC service was formerly owned by Time Warner Cable. The company is offering free access to Spectrum Broadband and Wi-Fi for 60 days for new K-12 and college student households beginning March 16. Click here for more info. 

Hospital capacity: The City and State are taking action to find and create more hospital beds and supplies, as we look ahead to overwhelmed hospitals. They are considering turning spaces like the Javits Conference Center and private hotels into emergency hospitals. The shortage of beds and supplies means that we all need to do our part in preventing hospitals from being overwhelmed.

Paid Sick Leave: The New York State legislature passed legislation yesterday to provide emergency paid sick leave up to two weeks for employees who test positive for the virus or are told to quarantine.

While that is a good step, says Council Member Lander, the legislation leaves out hundreds of thousands of workers in NY who are independent contractors, including many mis-classified workers like food delivery workers and for hire drivers. “I am continuing to push for an expansion of paid sick leave to reach many more people, both now and in the long term”, he declared.

* * * * * * * *

G&A Institute Team Note:
We will continue to bring you news of private (corporate and business), public and social sector developments as organizations in the three societal sectors adjust to the emergency.

The new items will be posted at the top of the blog post and the items today in this first blog post will move down the queue.

We are creating the tag “Corporate Purpose – Virus Crisis” for this continuing series – and the hashtag #WeRise2FightCOVID-19 for our Twitter posts.  Do join the conversation and contribute your views and news. 

Send us news about your organization – info@ga-institute.com so we can share.   Stay safe – be well — keep in touch!

We’re a Long Way from NYC’s Stonewall Inn, But Still a Ways to Go for Corporate LGBT Policies, Says Investor Coalition

by Hank Boerner – Chairman, G&A Institute

We’ve come a long way since the gay & lesbian communities mobilized and began in earnest their civil rights campaigns of the 1970s and 1980s and into the1990s. It was the New York City Police Department’s wrongheaded “raid” on the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village neighborhood in June 1969 that provided the important spark for the long-term, winning campaign by LGBT community for equal rights and equal protection under the laws of the land. “Stonewall” became a rallying cry for the next installment of the continuing “journey” of the civil rights movement in the United States.

The 1960s/1970s were the era of civil rights protests — we were involved in or witnessed and were affected by the civil rights / voting rights movement; the counter-culture “revolution” (remember the hippies?); the drive for adoption of the ERA (Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution); and the anti-war movement protests against the conflict in Vietnam.  These were catalysts as well for the LGBT equal rights warriors of the decades that followed the 1969 Stonewall protests.

Finally, in recent years, after years of campaigning by LGBT advocates, most states have been adopting protective measures to protect the LGBT community.  Same gender marriage is a reality in many U.S. jurisdictions.

On November 7, 2014 The New York Times carried an update — it was a “milestone year” for LGBT rights advocates, the publication explained.  Voters in the 3Ms — Maine, Maryland and Minnesota – favored same-sex marriage; the first openly-gay US Senator (Tammy Baldwin) was elected by Wisconsin voters.

Still, there was vocal and often fierce opposition to same-sex marriage and equal protection under the law for LGBT citizens.

About LGBT Policies and the US Corporate Community

Many large companies (estimate:70 companies in the S&P 500 Index to date) have adopted non-discrimination policies to protect LGBT employees in the United States, says the 2014 Corporate Equality Index (a national benchmarking tool of the Human Rights Campaign).

We see these policies and programs for inclusion described in the many sustainability and responsibility reports we examine as exclusive data partner for the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) for the United States of America.

Still, legal protections for LGBT citizens are not sufficient in numerous US jurisdictions. “Homophobic” policies and attitudes still reign in too many US cities and states and local communities.

And policies, attitudes, practices in other countries?  Well, that’s really a problem, say sustainable & responsible investment advocates — and steps are being taken to address the situation.

The S&R investment advocacy campaign is focused on the LGBT employees of US firms working overseas.  In countries like Russia, one of the world’s largest industrial economies, which has harsh anti-LGBT policies. The US investor group points out that 79 countries consider same sex relationships illegal; 66 countries provide “some” protection at least in the workplace; and in some countries, homosexuality is punishable by death.

In a business environment that continues to globalize in every aspect, with American large-cap companies operating everywhere, the investor coalition is calling on US companies to extend their LGBT policies on anti-discrimination and equal benefits policies to employees outside the United States. A letter was sent by the coalition to about 70 large-cap companies (the signatories manage US$210 billion in assets.

Shelley Alpern, Director Social Research & Shareholder Advocacy at Clean Yield Asset Management explains: “Today, most leading U.S. corporations now have equitable policies on their books for their [American-based] LGBT employees. Ther’s a dearth of information on how many extend policies outside of the U.S. In starting this dialogue, we hope to identify best practices and start to encourage all companies to adopt them.”

The objective of the shareowner advocacy campaign is to stimulate interest in the issue and create a broad dialogue that leads to greater protection of LGBT employees of US companies operating outside of the United States.

Mari Schwartzer, coordinator of shareholder advocacy at NorthStar Asset Management compliments US firms with effective non-discrimination policies and states:  “While we are pleased that so many companies have adopted non-discrimination policies in the USA which incorporate equal protections for LGBT employees, the next phase of implementation is upon us — we must ensure that international employees are receiving equal benefits and are adequately protected.  Particularly those stationed in regions hostile to LGBT individuals…”

Signatories of the letters sent to companies include these sustainable & responsible investing advocates:  Calvert Investments; Jantz Management; Miller/Howard Investments; Office of the Comptroller of New York City; Pax World Management; Sustainability Group/Loring, Wolcott & Coolidge; Trillium Asset Management; Unitarian Universalist Association; Walden Asset Management; Zevin Asset management.

Companies contacted include:  Aetna, AIG, Allstate, Altria, Amazon, American Express, Apple, AT&T, Bank of America, Baxter, Best Buy, Boeing, Cardinal health, Caterpillar, Chevron, Cisco, Citigroup, Coca Cola, Colgate Palmolive, Costco, CVS Health, Delta, Dow Chemical, DuPoint, EMC, FedEx, Ford Motor, General Electric, General Dynamics, General Motors, Goldman Sachs, Google, HP, Home Depot, Honeywell, Human, IBM Ingram Micro, Intel, J&J, JPMorgan Chase, Lockheed Martin, McDonalds, McKesson, Merck, MetLife, Microsoft, Morgan Stanley, Oracle, PepsiCo, Pfizer, P&G, Prudential, Sears, Sprint, Starbucks, Target, Texas Instruments, United Continental, United HealthGroup, United Technologies, UPS, Verizon, Visa, Walgreen, Walt Disney, Walmart, Wellpoint, Wells Fargo.

Summing up the heart of the issue for investors (and corporate employees):  “Corporations must take the extra step to ensure consistent application of LGBT-inclusive workplace policies throughout their operations, regardless of location,” said Wendy Holding, Partner, the Sustainability Group of Loring, Wolcott & Coolidge.