Many are familiar with Milton Friedman’s economic theory that “there is one and only one social responsibility of business — to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game.”
But when you look at today’s business pages, filled with stories of small businesses struggling, employers challenged with managing their workforce, and people worrying about paying bills and rent, you can’t help but wonder whether Friedman’s theory misses something bigger.
What the COVID-19 outbreak has done is throw the answer into sharp relief: The overarching responsibility businesses have is to their people—because ultimately isn’t that what a business is, a collection of individuals?
For years, businesses have been slowly adapting to the macro issues of income inequality, an absence of social safety nets, the fear of technology-driven income insecurity and climate change-driven displacement, much of which was underlined by executives from the Business Roundtable last year.
The outbreak has accelerated this sentiment, and business leaders across the world are having to make agonizing decisions every day in order to do the right thing during this global crisis.