The dual pandemics of COVID-19 and racial injustice affecting Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) are rapidly changing the social landscape and pose a serious threat to our health and economic well-being.
The Healthy Business Coalition (HBC), a cross-industry collaborative initiative of BSR member companies and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, seeks to reimagine how business can invest in health along the value chain in the United States. HBC believes that it is time for the business community to respond to the moment by radically restructuring its support for workers and communities and promoting an equitable future for all, which will help us to rebuild a healthy society.
The U.S. response to the coronavirus pandemic has exposed the stark inequalities of our healthcare system, insurance coverage, and government structures that are supposed to protect our health and well-being. Families and communities already challenged by limited resources are facing greater strain from an economic system that is working against them. Forty-four million U.S. residents have no health insurance, and an additional 38 million are underinsured. Nearly six in ten low-wage workers today have no paid sick leave, requiring many who fall ill to either take unpaid leave and risk falling further into poverty or continue to work while sick, endangering the health of coworkers and customers.
The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted communities of color and undocumented immigrants due to generations of institutional racism. Preliminary research suggests that Black people are more than 3.5 times more likely to die of COVID-19 than White people, and Latinx people are nearly twice as likely to die of the virus as White people. None of these trends is good for business. Even before the pandemic, analysis estimated that racial health disparities amount to approximately “[US]$93 billion in excess medical care costs and [US]$42 billion in lost productivity per year as well as economic losses due to premature deaths."
The pandemic has further placed capitalism and U.S. corporations at a crossroads with rapidly shifting expectations around the role of business in society. Recent research from JUST Capital shows that although 60 percent of Americans agree that companies are stepping up to protect the health, safety, and economic security of their workforces during the COVID-19 pandemic, even more—almost nine in 10 Americans—believe that this is an opportunity for large companies to focus on doing right by their stakeholders, including making health and safety a priority, minimizing job loss, protecting healthcare coverage, and listening to and empowering workers.
Reopening to a Healthy Society
As companies move to reopen, business leaders need to be more explicit about making a long-term commitment to health. This will help to ensure that future global health crises are not as devastating to both people and the economy and that workers have the opportunity to live the healthiest lives they can.
In late 2019, well before the crisis struck, HBC launched a process to identify possible corporate actions and collaborative solutions to improving health and well-being in the U.S. In collaboration with a multi-sector coalition of companies and building on the efforts of like-minded initiatives such as Healthy People 2020, HBC sets out to move the needle on community health in the U.S. and positively impact the social determinants of health through inspiring corporate action.
Today, HBC launches the result of that process—a concrete and targeted set of business actions that offer guidance for large companies on how to reopen responsibly while supporting groups disproportionately impacted by the economic downturn and systemic racism. This new phase of HBC’s work will focus on health and health equity and will challenge systemic barriers by accelerating and scaling effective solutions to ensure the changing world of work supports good health for everyone.
The Business Actions for a Healthy Society are the following:
- Ensure Access to Health Care
- Build Workforce Economic Security
- Promote Mental Well-Being and Resilience
- Invest in Lifelong Learning
- Provide a Safe Workplace
- Innovate for Wellness
- Support Community Health
- Advocate for Health for All
HBC believes that business adoption of these eight actions can reduce disparities in health care and community health while improving the financial cost of health care that comes with better health and longevity of employees, customers, and communities.
As we work to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, this is the moment for the private sector to step up and lead on an agenda to promote and preserve the health and well-being of their workers and the communities where they do business. We welcome more business leaders to join us in driving an agenda which brings these actions to life. Over the coming weeks and months, HBC will be engaging more companies and stakeholders to develop roadmaps and plans for each of the Actions, beginning with building workforce economic security and promoting mental well-being and resilience.
Please contact us if your business wishes to participate in this process so that together we can build momentum toward an equitable response and recovery and help sow the seeds of long-term, transformative change. We hope you will join us on that journey.