The S under ESG

Today week I was invited to a local television programme on state TV. The discussion touched upon different topics from land reclamation to the amendments in the criminal code relating to women’s health, as well as the electoral developments of the major political parties. We barely discussed foreign and European affairs, and the host gave me the opportunity to expand my analysis on local topics.

Indeed, one of the questions raised related to the party in government, its performance, and the corresponding number of votes attained in the last general election. Clearly, I stated that the government’s performance on the economy and the way it handled the pandemic are outstanding. However, I also stated that we must have a functioning opposition for democracy to flourish. The Opposition’s role is to firstly keep the party in government in checks and balance, and to also cooperate with the government on matters of national interest. Furthermore, I believe that in abnormal times, both the opposition and the government must work together in the common interest of citizens.

Truly, we are still living in abnormal times. Security in Europe and global rules-based order are under threat, while the Covid-19 pandemic is still around. Notwithstanding that the pandemic figures relatively diminished in Europe, clearly, we must not forget that China’s ease of Covid-19 restrictions contributed to a surge in the transmission of the virus. New variants are resurfacing, and how it will spread out is still unclear. Undoubtedly, it all depends on the Chinese’s health authorities to supply transparent information to the public, as well as their health partners.

Additionally, the war in Ukraine is still ongoing, and the economic effects are still to be felt. The predictions are clear, and I mentioned the possible economic scenarios last week.

Locally, the government is trying to fight inflation and absorb as much as possible the impact by subsidising the energy bills, fuel prices, as well as some of the local dairy produce. In Malta, the increase in the cost of living, relates mainly to the increase in the imported food prices.

Hitherto, interest rates in Malta were left untouched as that is also a contributing factor that might affect disposable income due to higher loan repayments on dwellings. Nonetheless, we must not discount the government’s intervention in the last general Budget 2023, especially the COLA which offered economic stability.

Certainly, several citizens who are either on the lower middle income or lower income brackets benefited from the last general budget, but they are still feeling the financial pinch. The sense of security, both from a financial standpoint as well as from a personal perspective is contributing to a sense of apathy not just here in Malta but also in Europe.

Evidently, the Covid-19 pandemic left its marks. And when we speak about the new normality, it is indeed a new normality, as several people were affected in different ways.

Presently, I began meeting with people either by visiting them in their homes, because they gently request it through my social media page, or else because I attend different events. When I meet with people the majority recount their Covid-19 pandemic stories, and how they are unable to deal with another crisis, including the current economic and political turmoil at a global level. They just cannot handle what seems to become a medium to long term crisis. And what they mostly refer to is the war in Ukraine, and its repercussions on the global economy.

Plainly, people are just mentally exhausted, and I hasten to add that the sense of apathy is all connected to insecurities, especially financial insecurity. The Covid-19 pandemic brought a massive financial shock to numerous citizens, especially those who lost their jobs in the retail sector. Others experienced loneliness, and traumas either by losing a close relative or a friend attributed to Covid-19 pandemic.

The situation was quite chaotic at the start of the pandemic back in February 2020. It created a sense of helplessness around the world. Certainly, it affected the mental health of countless citizens, and some do not even speak about it, as they still consider it a taboo.

To make matters worse, when we were coming out of the pandemic, those who were reintegrated in the labour market, were trying to recover some of their lost income in the preceding months. However, a few months down the line they were unable to make their ends meet due to high inflation mainly attributed to the energy and food crises. Whatever we say, and how much we deny it, the war in Ukraine is affecting the wellbeing of citizens around the globe.

Personally, I think that the health authorities, along with other social partners, must explore the idea of a comprehensive mental health awareness campaign. Employers must seek the opportunity to be more empathic with their employees, giving additional flexibility and seize the opportunity to prepare for an ESG strategy that caters for everyone, especially under the subset S. Alas, even though quite of a pressing problem, the focus in such abnormal times is primarily on the environment. However, we all miss mentioning the past and current occurrences that are contributing to the erosion of the social and mental wellbeing of workers.

Obviously, we must protect workers’ rights and explore multiple programmes aimed at promoting mental health wellbeing.

Truly, I feel that the social part under ESG must be given proper attention. This is the next level that we must aspire to and work towards achieving it with all the social partners, including health authorities and civil society. It is time for social partners to act and explore different options on the social side. Abroad, there are different social heatmaps that are used as reference points by the public sector, and the rating agencies. We must clearly examine them.  

Needless to say, we must not miss the opportunity to change our behaviour when it comes to the environment. Undeniably, it is right to take a proactive approach. However, we cannot carry on discussing how companies must seal windows to achieve greater energy efficiency. Certainly, I agree with promoting environmental policies, and it is crucial to transit to cleaner practices.

However, I equally believe that we must protect the planet’s natural capital, as much as we must protect the social and mental wellbeing of our human capital. Hence, attention must now turn to our own human capital, which is ignored or at times badly rewarded. We must push for a national campaign to support our workforce, primarily enriching society’s skills and once again enable an esprit de corps culture amongst our colleagues.

Finally, we must further explore and foster family-friendly measures at the place of work to achieve better KPIs in the implementation of equality and social wellbeing.

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