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Why healthier families and communities belong on the corporate agenda

June 26, 2021, 1:00 PM UTC
"A post-pandemic economy can, with the private sector’s support, be a healthier, more just, and equitable one," the authors write.
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The health of families and communities across the country has faced constant and intersecting threats over the last year. The toll of the COVID-19 pandemic, staggering job and income losses, devastating impacts of racial injustice, and increasing intensity of the climate crisis presented unprecedented challenges to the well-being of everyone in America—even more so for communities of color, which have borne the brunt of these crises.

While these inequities have been exacerbated over the last year, they’ve been in existence and growing for years—whether related to working in frontline jobs, living in highly polluted areas, or lacking access to healthy food options. Health and racial equity are inherently intertwined. And corporate America has a role to play in advancing both. 

Over the last year, people have turned to the private sector for leadership—most notably to protect worker health and safety. And yet, in a survey JUST Capital and The Harris Poll conducted in March 2021, 30% of workers said they do not feel protected from contracting COVID-19 at work. Workers were also more than twice as likely as employers to report that their health and safety often takes a back seat to profits. Both Hispanic and Black Americans were disproportionately more likely to say they fear negative, personal impact if they were to report safety issues in the workplace.

Employers must, first and foremost, secure the health and safety of their workplaces. But they also cannot ignore how unsafe and unhealthy environments affect workers beyond the workplace, and impact their families. The same survey saw one in five workers reporting going to work sick since the start of the pandemic, with a majority doing so due to lack of sick leave, fear of losing their jobs, or fear of employer anger.

Corporate America must also consider its impact on the health of our country’s communities, and the families that inhabit them, beyond workplace safety and well-being. Whether it’s how the products and services they sell affect the health of consumers or how much they pollute, businesses have an outsized influence on the health of individuals, families, and communities across America. It’s time companies viewed health as an environmental, social, and governance (ESG) priority, alongside key, and interconnected, ones like advancing racial equity and paying a living wage.

Leading companies are providing an example of what corporate action to support healthy families and communities can look like. JUST Capital’s new rankings of the Top 100 Companies Supporting Healthy Families and Communities, supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, highlights how businesses across a range of industries—banking, technology, utilities, consumer goods, and more—are taking steps to help build a healthier country. 

JUST Capital evaluated Russell 1000 companies based on their performance on 10 key issues, including protecting worker health and safety; paying a fair, livable wage; cultivating a diverse and inclusive workplace; and combating climate change, among others. Compared to the Russell 1000 overall, these 100 companies were 3.3 times more likely to provide additional paid sick leave provisions to their employees in response to the pandemic, are 8.2 times more likely to disclose the race or ethnic diversity of their board of directors or director nominees, and emit nearly 25% less direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions.  

The top-ranked companies in this group include Nvidia, which offers unlimited paid sick leave, back-up dependent care, subsidized child care, and equitable paid parental leave for primary caregivers, secondary caregivers, and adoptive parents. Also included in the list are JPMorgan Chase, which is one of the few Russell 1000 companies to disclose non-white to white pay ratios, as well as Workday, which uses 100% renewable electricity to power its operations.  

These companies recognize that delivering healthy outcomes for working families communities belongs on their ESG agendas. Their leadership provides a starting point for companies to look to as the country turns its focus to building an inclusive recovery. But, importantly, they shouldn’t stop there.

The current debate around raising the federal minimum wage and companies’ decisions to extend (or cut) pandemic policies like hazard pay opens up a window of opportunity for companies to help accelerate measures needed to deliver health equity for working families and communities across the country. A post-pandemic economy can, with the private sector’s support, be a healthier, more just, and equitable one.

With states starting to lift mask mandates and capacity restrictions, and vaccination rates going up across the country, it’s beginning to feel like the pandemic is receding. What’s clear, though, is that the need for companies to support the health of our country’s working families and communities cannot recede with it. Now is the time for corporate America to make the health and safety of workers and their families a permanent priority, not just a pandemic priority.

Alison Omens is chief strategy officer at JUST Capital. Deborah Bae is  deputy director at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. 

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