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Part 3 – Driving a Socially Sustainable Business

CEO's Thoughts

Part 3 – Driving a Socially Sustainable Business

  • Part 3 – Driving a Socially Sustainable Business Across the world, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted deep rooted challenges in our work environment and broader society. It has exposed a number of fragilities and long-standing systemic problems that have afflicted our society for years.
  • Date: Dec 30, 2021
  • Category: CEO's Thoughts
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As we count down the days to 2022, I would like to share my thoughts on the 'S' in ESG, via a three-part series.
As everyone knows, climate change and environmental sustainability have been dominating the headlines over the last few months. I, for one, fully believe the social element of the ESG equation is a critical factor in ensuring we progress towards a sustainable future. Social sustainability issues are complex and deeply intertwined covering various aspects such as labour practices, talent development, equity and equality, just transition, community relationships etc. Over the next few days, I will discuss several topics that have been at the top of my mind.

Across the world, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted deep rooted challenges in our work environment and broader society. It has exposed a number of fragilities and long-standing systemic problems that have afflicted our society for years. Today, there is a lot more discourse on issues such as forced labour, treatment of migrant workers, equity and inclusion, safe working conditions and many other issues relating to social sustainability. Given that businesses do not exist in a vacuum, there is a growing realisation on the role businesses play in shaping our society.

I would like to share three themes that I believe will become increasingly important for Malaysian corporations to start taking action on. .

Forced Labour and Human Rights Issues

According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), it is estimated that more than 40 million people are enslaved in modern slavery around the world. This could likely be exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic which has triggered economic recession in many countries, putting vulnerable segments of our society at risk of coercion.

Recently, Malaysia ratified the ILO protocol on Forced Labour Convention. In addition, the Government launched the National Action Plan on Forced Labour (NAPFL) 2021-2025, which outlined concrete steps to eradicate forced labour in the country. This is an important step towards strengthening our business environment and competitive landscape while also improving investor confidence in our companies.

As a trading nation, it is important that Malaysian companies increase efforts to weed out forced labour incidences in their operations and supply chains. It is morally the right thing to do, especially if we are to realise our vision of becoming an egalitarian society! Should companies fail to take action, they essentially risk being excluded from global supply chains, slapped with penalties and having to deal with a slew of legal and compliance issues that could be disruptive and financially damaging.

In addition to forced labour, companies should be mindful of other human rights violations within their operations and supply chains. These could include, among others, child labour, abuse of workers’ rights, failure to prevent discrimination at the workplace and non-compliance on issues pertaining to minimum wage and working hours. Companies must ensure sufficient due diligence is conducted to identify hotspots for human rights violations within their sphere of control and influence. For more guidance, I encourage you to explore BURSASUSTAIN which contains a wealth of publications and resources on the how to operationalise human rights within businesses.

Health, Safety and Wellness

The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed our society in many ways and our responses to the pandemic constantly evolve as new variants emerge. As the world adjusts to this new normal, companies should prioritise health, safety and wellness of their workforce. Alongside the efforts to prevent exposure and transmission of COVID-19, companies need to relook at their operating model, reimagine the workplace and embrace new ways of working. Companies should devise solutions to address the employees’ financial, mental, social and physical well-being. This includes putting in place strategies that help to cultivate positive employee engagement and improve workplace wellness. Greater flexibilities should be granted for employees to manage their workloads and responsibilities outside of the office.

This holistic approach will ensure employees are better equipped to overcome adversities, thereby resulting in a more resilient and agile workforce. To achieve an inclusive environment, companies should reach out to their employees to understand their concerns and gain feedback, as well as design health, safety and wellness programmes that address the diverse needs of the workforce.

Digital Inclusion

It is now generally understood that the pandemic has accelerated digital adoption among our society. Remote learning, homeworking, e-health and digital payments and online banking have all become commonplace in our daily lives, and this trend will continue. As we strive towards becoming a fully digitalised nation, we must also be conscious of the digital inequalities that could hamper our progress.

On the organisational front, companies must address the skills gaps in the workforce and ensure their employees are well-equipped with the necessary knowledge to adopt digital solutions. If this is not addressed, their organisation's productivity will suffer, as well as their ability to grow. Further, companies should also look to support micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises (MSME) within their supply chain that may lack resources to embrace new digital solutions. This enables companies to build strong and resilient supply chains while also assisting in the creation of new high-skilled jobs and the development of local talent to support our economy.

We also need to recognise the uneven dissemination of digital adoption within our society to ensure equal access to knowledge, employment opportunities and essential services. This includes fostering community-based initiatives to bridge digital divides across various demographic groups – age, gender, rural communities, underprivileged socio-economic groups and other segments of the society. This will ensure no one is left behind as we progress towards a digital economy. An inclusive and digitally aware society will help to further boost our economy and unlock new opportunities for the private sector.

Building a socially-responsible business necessitates a dynamic approach. Therefore, it is vital that companies constantly engage their stakeholders to determine material issues to the organisation and take proactive steps to develop human-centric solutions.

My three-part series on “The S in ESG” comes to a close now. As we usher in the new year, let us all hope for a better future that is safer, more sustainable, and inclusive. I look to forward to sharing my thoughts and viewpoints in 2022. Until then, best wishes and a very Happy New Year!

  • Tags : Bursa Speaks

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