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Commentary: Companies can be a powerful participant in preventing & mitigating stigma associated with COVID-19

“COVID-19 and combatting stigma: the role of responsible business”, 25 March 2020

GBI Director, Jo Reyes: “In an outbreak…, people are labelled, stereotyped, discriminated against…because of a perceived link with a disease”. Stigma can cause adverse mental health impacts…[and] can result in…unequal treatment in the workplace… and employment. [Companies]…need to understand the dangers of exclusion and stigmatisation, and double-check that their policies have no potentially negative impacts.

Companies would be wise to…put in place short- and long-term strategies:

  • Avoid attributing individuals with a “COVID-19 identity” in…communications: [W]hen business is in virtual communication overdrive…, choice of words and modelling good practice can be extremely powerful. [G]etting it wrong can have a…detrimental impact on individuals…
  • Help to battle misinformation: [M]isinformation significantly enhances fear…and reinforcing the facts can…enable a more measured and compassionate response. 
  • Think about the impact…on already vulnerable groups: Companies should ramp up their worker welfare programmes…, as well as seek specialised help for…[those] with pre-existing mental ill-health, migrant workers, those in precarious work, those forced to isolate with abusive family members, people with certain disabilities, those caring for the sick and elderly…[etc.]
  • Prepare those who provide support to tackle the impact of stigma: Companies…will need to ensure that occupational health teams, human resources departments…, worker/community welfare hotlines…[etc],…are prepared and understand the impacts which stigma…
  • Convey good, positive messages about recovery from COVID-19, or worker or community efforts: Sharing examples from your company or elsewhere of how people are working responsibly to help and support around the world…can normalise positive responses, helping to prevent stigma.