Ukraine crisis: How can the private sector be a force for good?

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Henrietta H. Fore, Director Emeritus, Chief Executives for Corporate Purpose (CECP)

  • The war in Ukraine has displaced nearly two-thirds of the country’s children.
  • International cooperation is critical to protect and children and their families.
  • The private sector can take direct action to help Ukraine and its people.

When the war in Ukraine broke out, the idea of a war in Europe was shocking and demanded public attention and support. Over 100 days in, the crisis continues but popular attention is waning and children will be left to deal with its consequences for decades. Nearly two-thirds of Ukraine’s children are now displaced since the Russian invasion began, some are displaced inside the country, some have fled across borders as refugees and many are young and all alone.

Collectively, whether in Ukraine, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, Afghanistan, or any of the many centres of crisis around the globe, this instability is robbing children of their futures. Trauma and fear can have long-lasting impacts on children’s physical and mental health.

Shared global responsibility

To support future generations, businesses, global leaders, and the international community have a shared responsibility in responding to global instability – not just at the start of a crisis but in the long term – as it gravely threatens global economic freedom and security. For example, Russia and Ukraine export nearly one-third of the world’s wheat and barley, more than 70% of its sunflower oil, and are big suppliers of corn. Russia’s war in Ukraine is preventing grain from leaving the “breadbasket of the world” and making food more expensive globally, threatening to worsen shortages, hunger, and political instability in developing countries.


How is the World Economic Forum supporting refugees?

Since 24 February 2022, over 6 million refugees from Ukraine have crossed borders into neighbouring countries. The war is widely recognised as the worst conflict in Europe since WWII and adds to the estimated 31 million people worldwide who have been displaced across borders as a result of persecution, conflict, violence and human rights violations (UNHCR, 2021). Of this, approximately 10 million are of working age, highlighting the centrality of employment and employability to successful integration.

The crisis in Ukraine is unique in terms of the speed and scale at which it has unfolded. However, it is also unprecedented in the legal and institutional response to the crisis. This has brought into sharp focus what is possible for refugee employment and employability with the right enabling environment.

The Refugee Employment and Employability Initiative builds on the momentum associated with supporting refugees from Ukraine to create a basis for system-wide global support from employers for refugees that extends across conflict contexts.

The Initiative has three objectives:

  • to increase employment opportunities for refugees;
  • to expand the range of initiatives that support their employability;
  • to build capability for rapid action and resilience for future refugee crises.

In its first phase, the Initiative is working with the Forum’s Community of Chief Human Resource Officers to understand what member organizations are doing with respect to the employment and employability of refugees. These findings will be used to shape the initiative and identify opportunities for further collaboration in the second phase of the initiative.

Global conflict is also dangerously impacting geopolitics. At the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting this year in Davos, Professor Klaus Schwab said in his opening remarks, “Russia’s aggression on their country [Ukraine] will be seen in future history books as the breakdown of the post-World War II and post-Cold War order. This is the reason why we speak about a turning point in history. In Davos, our solidarity is foremost with the people suffering from the atrocities of this war.”

Cooperation between governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the private sector, and many other partners is the best way to advance, protect, and give opportunities back to every child and their families. During my time at UNICEF, we advocated that every person needs safety, equality, health, education, and a livelihood – and I still believe this is true for everyone today.

How can the private sector help Ukraine?

This collective effort, however, asks the private sector to step in and do the right thing. And it’s not just altruism, as there is a clear case for corporate purpose, as companies with a strong corporate purpose tend to outperform those without it. Chief Executives for Corporate Purpose (CECP) research demonstrates that companies with established and articulated purpose – high purpose companies – show 14% greater revenue growth, 8% higher operating profitability, and 6% better return on capital than those companies which focused only on maximizing profits. And the gap is increasing.

Companies can “do well and do good in Ukraine” … helping to evacuate local employees, making donations to humanitarian organizations, enforcing sanctions, and more. ”— @CECPtweets

Companies can “do well and do good in Ukraine” and other areas of need by using existing processes, systems, and connections to make real change happen. This may include helping to evacuate local employees, making donations to humanitarian organizations, enforcing sanctions, and more. (See this comprehensive list from the Association of Corporate Citizenship Professionals (ACCP) about the corporate response to the crisis in Ukraine for ideas on how your company can help.)

But this also asks leaders to treat all people with respect, dignity, and equity as we are seeing now, when we do not, we all lose a piece of our collective humanity. Additional recent research finds businesses not working with integrity may lose more than suppliers and customers, but valuable employees, as well. CECP, with support from the Ford Foundation, finds in the Frontline Worker Well-Being in a Time of Crisis report that wage is only one critical factor for workers; stability of pay, paid time off, safety, shift schedule flexibility, plus a sense of purpose and dignity are also vital.

We are at a crucial time in our world when it is important for business leaders not only to serve shareholders but also to be community leaders and speak up and speak out for good. A company, its owners, employees, customers, suppliers, and communities all stand behind their business workplaces, products, and services – now, too, companies need to stand for what these stakeholders value and believe in.

Today, it’s our turn. Let’s live up to our promise of using business as a global force for good.

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