Putting the G in ESG Article icon

Putting

Read the contents of the CorpComms Corona Newsletter #1

Governance is the oft forgotten component of the ESG triumvirate, with many people preferring to elaborate on the more ‘sexy’ environmental and social elements. But governance is not some poor relation. It is a vital indicator of a company’s moral compass.

Nowhere was that more obvious than today, with the actions of two companies who have had issues with shareholders over their attitudes toward corporate governance.
Last night, Mike Ashley, founder of Sports Direct and owner of Evans Cycles, insisted his stores were ‘essential’, because they sold sporting and fitness equipment vital to the nation’s health, and as such would open today. After a widespread backlash, and threats of customer boycotts, the shops remained shuttered this morning.

Tim Martin, founder of Wetherspoon, who only last week insisted his pubs should remain open because - the epidemiologist that he is - there had been ‘no transmission of Coronavirus in bars’, swiftly found the Government did not share his view of the magical qualities of pubs. (Let’s be honest, if that were true - the obvious solution would be for everyone to have moved into a hostelry!)

Wetherspoon’s pubs closed on Friday night, and Martin, who is reportedly worth more than £440 million, has since told his 40,000 staff that they would be paid for the hours worked until 22 March, and would not receive any further income until the company was in receipt of the Government’s grant. It smacks of how White Star Line treated staff working on the Titanic - their salaries stopped from the moment the ship sunk - but I’m obviously not drawing any comparisons.

And Martin did helpfully point out that Tesco’s is recruiting. I mean, he didn’t have to offer career advice, did he?

* Please note: I am not an expert in probability. I made this up.

  • Are we really panic buying?

Despite the media focus on empty shelves, abusive shoppers and a nation’s obsession with toilet rolls, the answer seems to be no. In fact, Kantar Worldpanel, which surveyed 100,000 shoppers, said it could be fewer than three per cent of the population who have stockpiled, making them more at risk* of suffocation from a collapsed tower of baked bean cans than the Coronavirus.

Rob Weston, a partner in data analytics at consultants Accuracy, explains that Britain’s supermarket system works on a ‘Just in Time’ system. Margins are thin and costs associated with excess stock could easily swamp these, so supermarkets carry what is generally required. Loyalty cards also help identify peaks and troughs in demand for certain products.

Thus, there will always be an abundance of supplies we buy regularly - such as bread and milk - and more restricted provisions of items, like washing powder or soap, that we purchase less frequently... hence the emergence of Loo-gate, as retailers struggle to realign their supply chains.

Weston points out that Britons spend, on average, £1 billion a week eating out while the average worker spends between £6 and £15 on lunch (I admit: that statistic surprised me - I thought we lived on £3 meal deals and Greggs’ pasties ).

Over the past three weeks, the nation has bought an additional £1 billion worth of food - equating to around £2.80 extra per day for a family of four - which will likely be consumed in coming weeks as remote working and home schooling prevail. By the time, these are depleted, supermarkets should have adapted their supply chains.

That doesn’t exactly sound like panic!

  • Seeing the future

When Adrian Harris arrived as head of digital at The Church of England three years ago, little did he imagine that his team’s efforts in connecting with those who identified as Christians but were fairweather churchgoers - weddings, funerals and Christmas - would pay such dividends today. But Harris and his team have established online communities, across social platforms and digital devices, that allow the Church to connect with parishioners without the benefit of a pulpit.

With almost 97,000 followers on Twitter - slightly fewer than the combined following of the UK’s other major religions’ accounts, 27,000 on Instagram and 93,000 on Facebook, plus an Alexa skill, the Church is uniquely placed to continue as if it were business as usual.

For those parishes slow to get onto the digital wagon, the team hosted a series of webinars last week offering advice on how to stream services and how to use platforms to keep connected during social distancing. All told, 200 churches received training and expert advice while a Digital Labs Learning Blog offers additional information for those who missed out last week.

Harris may not have predicted a pandemic, but he certainly recognised the need for the Church to connect outside a physical building. At a time when many people are in search of comfort, that foresight could prove invaluable.

From the archives: Preaching from a new pulpit.

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