The coronavirus outbreak in 2020 has taken thousands of lives, locked down tens of millions of citizens at the epicenter, and brought much of the country to a halt. Businesses were unable to return to normal after the Chinese New Year holidays ended in early February, and most people got stuck at home.
But thanks to increased regulatory requirements for public companies, corporate social responsibility (CSR) has become an increasingly important issue to Chinese companies. It’s believed that CSR activities can not only boost corporate image, reduce business and legal risks, and potentially improve long-term financial performance or market value as well.
Charitable activities like corporate donations have become common among Chinese companies during this public health incident. Many Chinese companies have also launched other CSR initiatives to help businesses or individuals weather the temporary disruption; for instance, many finance companies or banks have lowered lending rates and allow borrowers to postpone monthly interest payments. Socially irresponsible behaviors, when publicized, can of course be destructive during such a crisis. More than 4,500 businesses have been punished for jacking up prices for face masks and more than 11,000 sellers of medical supplies and related goods are under investigation, according to China’s central government.
Aligning CSR Initiatives with Core Competencies
During this virus outbreak, we’re seeing CSR activities of Chinese companies are becoming more aligned with their core competencies, especially their technological advantages, or business strategy than before.
In each affected industry, we see companies offering their existing products or creating new relevant ones to help certain groups of people tackle problems emerged from the outbreak. It’s for the first time that advanced technologies like artificial intelligence and blockchain were applied during such a sudden public crisis.
For instance, to help hospitals and people infected or quarantined, a wide range of companies from non-medical industries have developed solutions based on their own core offerings or competences. Major AI startups and tech companies have rolled out a variety of products, like the systems to detect fevered people or provide computing assistance to scientists or organizations that are working on therapeutics and related research.
To meet the public demand for more transparency and information about the outbreak and help reduce public panic, many information technology services providers have developed custom services to provide timely information. Technology like chatbot, which was originally developed for customer services, has added the capability of answering questions about disease related topics and made them available to the public for free.
It’s unsurprising to see logistics companies and e-commerce companies set up dedicated routes teams delivering medical supplies and other goods to the epicenter and add staff to meet the increased demand for grocery delivery service. The outbreak also turns out to be a good opportunity for some of them to experiment with their latest tech products or services that don’t require human involvement, such as automated delivery carts and drones.
To help schools that have postponed the spring semester, not only do online education services, many other internet platforms that previously accommodated other types of human-to-human interactions, such as live entertainment content streaming sites and video conferencing services, have also developed new functions and features to enable teachers give lectures or communicate with their students.
As most office workers are not able to get back to their office after the Chinese New Year holidays, many companies that have developed communications and collaborations services such as video conferencing, remote collaboration tools and customer service bots have launched customized functions or features for businesses to manage dispersed teams or meet other needs for workers that are working from home. Some decided to offer certain functions or features or even all of their existing services for free.
As the accountability and transparency of Chinese charitable organizations have long been scrutinized, many tech companies offer internet-based platforms, with some based on blockchain technology, to track and manage donations.
It’s also the first time that so many private companies lent a helping hand to local governments and other organizations. Many tech companies help them track the developments of the outbreak, health conditions of individuals or economic activities.
As it is believed in China that these technology-driven products or services will become mainstream, the moves mentioned above are estimated to be able to not only boost corporate image during the virus outbreak but also increase adoption rate of their offerings in the near future or improve reputation of their products and services.