The European Business Review


Natural disasters have been growing in their social impact in recent years, but humanitarian assistance has not kept pace. Company donations have fortunately made up for some of that shortfall. By 2015, more than 90 percent of the 3,000 largest companies worldwide have been contributing to disaster relief. Addressing a long-standing issue of whether corporate social responsibility benefits or costs companies – and whether it also benefits the receiving societies, we drawn on a data base of the donations of large companies in the wake of natural disasters worldwide from 2000 to 2015. We report that companies do benefit if their contributions are well managed, as when they are directed to countries where the company already has local operations, and where the company has previously established a favorable local reputation. We also report that when company aid is so directed, it significantly adds to the country’s recovery. The evidence confirms that company giving, when well managed, benefits both the firm and the society. We offer a relief roadmap for business leaders in the wake of great natural disruptions, including the Covid-19 crisis of 2020.

It was early January in 2020. The corona-virus was already throwing out frightening signs of its potential for economic devastation. General Motors, Honda, Nissan, and other carmakers with plants in the most affected Chinese city of Wuhan had closed their lines. Employees could not work, suppliers had shutdown, and customers postponed purchase. By April, the disruption has spread globally and into virtually all industries, from financial services and travel services to construction and technology. Some firms responded by moving into products for testing, combatting, or treating the pandemic. Luxury firms shifted to protective masks, alcoholic-beverage makers to hand sanitizers, and automakers to ventilators. Are these actions economically efficient? And can company engagement in tackling great challenges help societies recover from their disruption?

More Disasters, Less Relief

Three hurricanes hammered the U.S. in just two months in 2017, leaving a $200-billion swath of destruction from Puerto Rico to Texas. Several months later, a raging wildfire destroyed more than 8,500 buildings in Northern California. It was a frightful year abroad, too. A magnitude-8.2 earthquake rocked Mexico, monsoon flooding killed 1,200 in Bangladesh, and extreme temperatures scorched India.

But 2017 had not been the worst year on record. That dreary distinction

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About the Author
William S. Harvey is the Associate Dean (Research & Impact) and Professor of Management at University of Exeter Business School. Will conducts research, teaches and consults in the areas of reputation, leadership, talent management and migration. He