Where is the business community's response to the refugee crisis?

As the mood in the UK shifts dramatically, how will the business world react?

As the mood in the UK shifts dramatically, how will the business world react?

We are at this moment facing one of the biggest crises of our time. Refugees from war-torn countries are coming to Europe to seek sanctuary and thousands are dying trying to protect their families from harm at home.

For months this was seen as a political issue. But almost at once, amid horrific images of drowning children and tales of immeasurable suffering, the country started seeing it as the humanitarian disaster it is.

The business world has a strong record of helping in times of humanitarian crisis. As one of the parts of society with real financial clout, as well as hugely visible brands, it is in a position to offer real help to people. The incredible generosity of the public during Live Aid was more than matched by contributions from companies both large and small.

Businesses of all sizes, especially large corporates, are often seen by the general public and heartless and unwilling to give back to society. But behind the scenes they do a lot more than most people realise; and those of you who own a business or are in the leadership team of one will know what we’re talking about.

A Grant Thornton report in 2014 revealed that 68% of companies donated money to charitable causes and community projects. This is of course admirable, but now it is time to act in a more meaningful way.

Hundreds of charitable projects are being set up to help refugees and a selection of them, along with links on how to help, is at the bottom of this piece. But so far the business community has done very little publicly to respond to the crisis.

You may wonder why we’re making this point. Surely a refugee crisis and the corporate world are miles apart and the cross-over is minimal – if it exists at all? But which businesses, especially those in the FTSE100, haven’t spoken at length about corporate and social responsibility over the past 12 months?

Events like this are an opportunity for those businesses to show that these are not just empty words. “We care” is the message every business is desperate to convey in the 21st century. If that’s really true they will act in any way they can.

But what can be done?

This is all very well but what can be done in real terms? Well this situation is certainly not without precedent. Giving customers the option to donate – such as adding a small contribution when paying online or a prominent charity tin – is one obvious way to help.

But there are more significant ways to help. As mentioned, there is a spate of charity drives to take direct action and help refugees. These range from raising money to organising trips to Calais with lorries full of food and clothing.

Food retailers throw away tonnes of perfectly good food per day. Why can’t this be taken directly to the refugees in need? Similarly clothing with small imperfections is often thrown away because it is deemed not fit for sale – so why can’t this be added to the supplies taken to those in need?

These are the most basic of actions that, on a large scale, could help those most in need. We understand businesses’ reluctance to do this until now as it was seen as politicised and it may have been seen as coming down on one side.

But now that almost everyone agrees this goes beyond politics, can’t retailers and other businesses play their part in keeping people alive? There is no commercial or corporate obligation of course, but it is the right thing to do.

Ways you can donate and help refugees

Donate to the UN Refugee Charity

Donate to the Migrant Offshore Aid Station

Visit the Facebook page dedicated to a number of ways to help refugees

Contribute clothes and food for CalAid

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda was Editor for GrowthBusiness.co.uk from 2016 to 2018.

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