2020 is undoubtedly going to be remembered as the year that we can’t get over fast enough. Everyone everywhere has been affected by the events of this year. Clearly, some of those impacts are going to be more long-lasting than anyone ever anticipated before COVID-19 entered our everyday consciousness.
Yet amidst all the upending of our lives, not everything has been entirely bleak and gloomy. Let’s look at some of the things that have been achieved or have emerged amidst these unprecedented challenges.
1. The palm oil sector continued to operate
With Indonesia (and Malaysia) designating the palm oil sector as critical, the industry has mostly continued without very major disruptions in 2020. Contrast this with some other sectors globally, such as the meat-packing industry in the USA, which has suffered devastating disruptions. The ability of the palm oil sector to continue operating has meant that there have been no massive layoffs in the industry, and millions of farmers are still able to earn an income this year. The palm oil industry has also been able to continue supplying the world with an essential food ingredient, and a key component of cleaning products such as soap which play a vital role in keeping COVID-19 at bay.
2. GAR stayed committed to responsible palm oil production (and learned some new tricks)
While anything that required travelling and meeting face-to-face, such as community consultations, had to be put on hold, we soldiered on with new and creative ways to carry out our other sustainability initiatives and projects.
Highlights include continuing on track with Traceability to the Plantation (TTP). The Responsible Sourcing Team continued to engage with suppliers via virtual channels such as SMART Reach, encouraging them to carry out and report self-assessments with documented evidence. As of Q3 2020, we were able to report 88 percent full TTP. Some suppliers have inevitably faced delays in being able to carry out surveys on the ground. Recognising this, GAR will make allowances for such suppliers if they cannot meet the end-2020 deadline.
Daniel Prakasa, Head of the Responsible Sourcing Team, said, “We’ve been impressed by the commitment of our suppliers to try to stick to completing TTP despite the difficulties they are facing on the ground. It shows that our engagement and relationship-building over the years is paying off as we have convinced our suppliers that staying on course towards responsible palm oil production is worth it.”
Another highlight was the launch of the children’s book Rumbun and Jungle Friends. The book helps teachers educate elementary school students on the importance of preventing forest and land fires, especially in operational areas that are fire-prone. The initiative was launched just before COVID-19 became a full-blown global pandemic and put a stop to plans to conduct live workshops for teachers. Luckily through video-conferencing tools and podcasts, our team in Indonesia managed to continue their outreach and training, reaching 400 teachers through dedicated virtual workshops and another 700 participants via podcasts.
“We had to learn how to do virtual workshops effectively quickly, but I’m happy to say that the effort paid off and we were able to reach as many if not more people through our virtual workshops and podcasts. It’s given us another critical tool in our community education efforts about the importance of preventing forest fires and haze,” said Wulan Suling, Head of Corporate Communications.
We’ve also continued to support 40 local communities through our long-term Alternative Livelihood projects. Started before the pandemic, these projects aim to build up rural community resilience and food security. We’ve also supported efforts to ensure sufficient protective equipment is available to our employees and communities through CSR projects like our mask-making programme.
3. Supported by technology, our way of working has changed
Amongst the most significant changes brought on by the pandemic was the very sudden and widespread implementation of remote work or working from home for office workers. As countries went into lockdown one after the other to stem the spread of the virus, many of us had to turn our homes into home offices.
Assuming that there is a robust technological infrastructure, especially good internet connectivity, many have found that productivity has not suffered as they found creative ways of working remotely. A global debate about the future of work is ongoing, with many experts believing that a hybrid way of working will become the norm.
The pandemic has also forced all companies to make employee health and safety a top priority. Those which do not risk suffering business disruptions and shutdowns while companies that are going the extra mile to take care of their employees during this challenging time are likely to reap benefits well beyond the pandemic including increased employee loyalty and engagement.
News has recently emerged of several successful vaccines that are now going into mass production. While we still have a long road ahead towards general herd immunity, light is at the end of the tunnel. And although 2020 will no doubt go down in the record books as annus horribilis (or the horrible year), this will also be the year where we learnt we could think out of the box and get things done differently when we needed to.
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