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Corporate Social Responsibility: The COVID-19 Stress Test

The effects of COVID-19 have provided an unprecedented stress test of corporate social responsibility. In every crisis there are risks and opportunities and this is what we see in our research thus far. Week by week, a rising number of companies has faced exposure to stakeholder criticism over their social practices and simultaneously, companies across all sectors have taken the opportunity to further embed themselves into the social fabric of the communities where they operate.

What we have identified are risks spread across the full scope of the social value chain, from employee protection to customer support and supply chain management to privacy concerns. Yet, in an era defined by isolation and social distancing, many corporations have been taking clear actions to “reach out” to their stakeholders and position themselves as valuable corporate citizens. In this paper we detail some of our observations from this initial phase of the pandemic.

Key Findings
Since the start of the pandemic , we have recorded a total of 65 COVID-19 related controversies impacting 57 companies from 22 different sectors. Most of the controversies concern European and North American companies and focus on social responsibilities.
Examples of the concerns raised include:

  • Inadequate protective gear for staff,
  • Inadequate policies or processes for consumer protection,
  • Misleading information on the pandemic,
  • Concerns over data management and privacy rights.

At sector level, service orientated sectors appear to be the most exposed thus far, but we also found exposure amongst extractive and construction sectors as well. The controversies impact sectors that are ‘open’ as well as ‘closed’ in the current environment.
We have recorded a wide range of positive CSR practices aimed at protecting and enhancing brand capital during this testing operating environment.


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