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Business should lead on face coverings

Written by Maurice Ostro on Thursday, 23 July 2020. Posted in Insight, Analysis

Division has been a hallmark of the last decade – it felt as if we were moving further and further apart and compromise on any mainstream issue was often out of reach.

Business should lead on face coverings

Division has been a hallmark of the last decade – it felt as if we were moving further and further apart and compromise on any mainstream issue was often out of reach.

When a crisis hits, it tests our character and resilience – and the need for consensus and collaboration is thrown into sharp focus. As a nation we have proven our giving and considerate character in reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic.

I have been heartened by the stories of community projects for the most vulnerable. Volunteering has sky-rocketed and people up and down the country have given a helping hand to their neighbours, whilst entrepreneurs have played no lesser role here. As lockdown eases, we must keep this up – and wearing face coverings is yet another way to show consideration, care and kindness to others.

The strict lockdown and the peak of the virus was the first challenge; we are now moving into another phase. Very quickly the UK will need to come to terms with the fact that face coverings are here to stay, and rules imposed by the government will not work in isolation.

Wearing a face covering is a selfless act: when you wear one, you are primarily protecting other people rather than yourself. It’s a contribution to the greater good and a continued demonstration of the much-repeated slogan ‘We Are All in This Together’ – our civic duty must not ease as the lockdown does.

Much of the rhetoric around wearing face coverings is debating their efficacy and the inconvenience for the wearer. That’s missing the point – it should be celebrated as a contribution to the safety of the nation. We should feel proud to wear one. Changing the conversation will do much more than enforced legislation.

The word ‘unprecedented’ has been hanging in the air since early March. But the changes and decisions made in the business community, often seen as a competitive, uncaring part of society, have truly been unprecedented.

The Business Action Council is one such example of bold collaboration during this crisis – a new coalition of the UK’s major business groups, brought together for the first time and representing over half a million of the country’s top businesses to build consensus where it did not exist previously, and not just on the easy issues we can all agree on. 

People have been willing to change their attitudes quickly. In the real estate sector landlords have largely been understanding of their tenants’ ability to pay full rent, or in the finance sector with a new found relationship between traditional banks and fintechs to deliver on the policies of a government in response mode. Compromise, collaboration and camaraderie have not been reserved to our personal lives.

We should be doing everything we can now in the business community to work collaboratively and encourage mass use of face coverings, supporting a new social acceptance for them – built on socialisation and not enforcement. The real task at hand is to grow consensus across society – in our workplaces, in our shops, in our places of worship – so that wearing a face covering is wholly accepted as the right thing to do. 

We’ve already seen the backlash with protests in London citing the new government measures as a means to spread fear amongst the public. Although they are in the minority and their views go against prevailing scientific views, they show that we need to convince people of the value of wearing one, and not just enforce it using strict rules.

The Prime Minister encouraged office workers to return to their places of work from 1st August in a bid to stimulate city centre businesses which are struggling without customers. It is unlikely – according to the Health Secretary’s comments – that office workers will be forced to wear masks, a perceived inconsistency which may confuse people.   

Inflexible interventions do not allow room for nuance and cannot work in the short-term to change attitudes without softer tactics that focus on persuasion and use the support of influential groups in society. Social change happens best when others lead by example, and employers have a unique opportunity to share a positive, understanding message around face coverings.

As a nation, we should reinforce our inclination to do right and move forward with our renewed sense of community and understanding for the circumstances of others – this cannot be left behind as a story of lockdown and businesses can take the lead on it.

About the Author

Maurice Ostro

Maurice Ostro

Maurice Ostro OBE is a serial entrepreneur and active philanthropist. As founder of the Ostro Fayre Share Foundation, Maurice has spearheaded projects including the Faiths Forum for London, and most recently Smile for Our Carers, a charitable art project producing face coverings. Maurice formed the Business Action Council, a coalition of the UK’s major business groups, in response to COVID-19.

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