The Easing of Restrictions, Social Justice and The Role of Corporate Organisations

The month of May and June of 2020 will possibly go down as turning points in human history. With the whole world slowly easing COVID-19 restrictions and businesses slowly reopening to a new normal, we were hit with some horrid news that took place on May 25th. Prior to that date, very few of us had ever heard of the name George Floyd, but within hours we all found ourselves mentioning this man’s name quite often.

The events of May 25th, when George Floyd uttered those three words that we had heard before “I Can’t Breathe”, created a global ripple effect that has changed the course of human interaction, social justice, and the sensitivity of business to consumer relationships.

George Floyd was not the first unarmed black man to be killed by the police in the United States and unfortunately also has not been the last. Ironically, he was the third in a spate of recent killings of unarmed black men and women by white supremacists and the police. A few weeks prior, we had also heard of the killing of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor. Similar stories that have been percolating for far too long.

Without getting too deep into the social injustice that has existed in America when it comes to people of colour, there was something quite profound about the killing of George Floyd that it sparked unprecedented reactions from every corner of the world. Since then, we have seen governments, activists, entertainers, athletes, students, corporate organisations, and any other entity that you can imagine react with solidarity towards this apparent injustice.

To understand the emotions behind these reactions is to understand the perfect storm that has been brewing since February of this year. As the pandemic that we refer to as COVID-19 began to sweep through nations causing never before seen panic and chaos that forced countries and businesses to shut down, every day people found themselves in a place they had never been in before. Folks had high anxiety from jobs and revenue that were lost. People found themselves experiencing cabin fever from having to convert their houses to professional and residential spaces with no outlets for recreation. The overall economy was forced into a recession which created mayhem with forecasts that only looked gloomy. For many weeks, people found themselves dealing with all these different things. Then they started hearing these all too familiar stories of police brutality that had no place in an evolving crisis. The back to back deaths of Ahmaud Arbery and Breona Taylor had people asking themselves “why are these killings taking place during a lockdown?”. Then as different states began to open, we now had to witness the horrific death of George Floyd.

The combination of these factors within a relatively short period was the lightning rod of the perfect storm that had been brewing for a long time. Within an instant, we saw protests that turned into riots then back into protests. We saw several responses that ranged from expressions of pure emotion and sadness to ridiculous opinions. But quite remarkably, we saw the reactions of corporate organisations.

Major companies all over the world began to align themselves to the social justice movement “Black Lives Matter” by releasing campaigns with the hashtags #Ican’tbreathe. We even saw a lot more sensitivity with other organisations that had pandered to racial stereotypes now rescinding on images and narratives that had previously existed. If anyone is wondering why corporates began doing these things, the answer is quite simple. The mathematics of emotions is a powerful algorithm.

It was smart business by organisations to align with the most powerful social movement the world had seen in over three decades. Consumers are at inflection points where they are spoiled for choice and will always align with businesses that share the same values as they do.

Companies coming out to show the level of support that they did speaks to the New Normal that we have been talking about for a few months. If businesses are to recover and bounce back from the economic impact of the lockdown, it is beholding upon them to align with the philosophical pulse of their consumers.

Corporate organisations have a big role to play in how economies bounce back from this pandemic. Creating safe spaces for customers to feel welcome, appreciated, and valued creates a satisfaction index designed around trust that significantly contributes to the bottom line. Failure to do so in the new normal can affect the vibrancy of a brand which will have a direct knock-on effect on revenue and loyalty.

Years from now, we will all look back at these defining moments, and business owners and leaders will ask themselves what they did to align to the fight for social equality. It only makes sense to always be on the right side of history, especially when that right side has a positive impact on business.

Phillips Consulting Limited (pcl.) is a leading business and management consulting firm serving clients across Africa. www.phillipsconsulting.net/