Three months ago, Brian Chesky, chief executive of Airbnb, made a bold pledge: if he conducted an IPO, he would turn his business into a “stakeholder” company, serving employees and society as much as future shareholders. It initially seemed just a trendy promise. After all, many US companies have made similar pledges since the Business Roundtable, the US corporate lobbying group, embraced stakeholder interests last August. But now Airbnb is being tested, along with many other businesses. As Covid-19 has decimated its revenues, Mr Chesky has been forced to cut staff. But it was initially unclear how to do this in a “responsible” way. So Mr Chesky has branched out: on May 5 he cut 1,900 jobs, or 25 per cent of the total, but gave those laid off 14 weeks of pay, an Airbnb laptop, equity stakes, job advice — and healthcare insurance for a year. “It was important that we had a clear set of principles, guided by our core values, for how we would approach reductions in our workforce,” he explained in an anguished letter to staff….At an FT event last week, Michael O’Leary, head of Ryanair, argued that ESG would disappear in the downturn. “I suspect a lot of the environmental agenda is going to be put on the back burner for a few years [because of Covid-19],” he said. Representatives of ESG initiatives insist this is wrong. After all, Ms Eling-Lee points out, companies with high ESG rankings have outperformed rivals during the crisis. That means interest in ESG is likely to rise — not fall — according to Frédéric Samama, head of responsible investment at Amundi, the French asset manager. “Companies are more and more scrutinised [and] ESG factors can be a way to assess the adaptability skills of corporates,” he says. Thus many investors and some chief executives argue that a key theme of the coming months will be not simply how to rebuild the economy after the Covid-19 shock — but how to build back better, in the sense of creating a more sustainable world and corporate sector alike.
Business faces stern test on ESG amid calls to ‘build back better’ | Financial Times