Corporate social responsibility can take many forms — even those you don't realize.

Written in partnership with Benjamin Nolan (Director HR & Training) and Qiu Quan Kua (Consultant) of the Geneva Consulting Network at IHEID.

By finding the "inadvertent corporate social responsibility" in your supply chain, you can gain an immediate advantage in an under-recognized segment that's good for business (and just good, in general).

With the worldwide focus on the plight of over 25 million refugees, according to the UN Refugee Agency, your organization is probably interested or engaged in corporate social responsibility (CSR) around this key humanitarian topic. It's equally likely that your employees are interested and would love to do more to improve refugee livelihoods.

As an HR professional, you might be sitting on a goodwill goldmine of unacknowledged CSR — we'll call it "inadvertent CSR."

How Could That Be?

These days, many business service providers make use of a remote global workforce of freelancers. Some of the individual freelancers may be non-disclosed refugees. Your organization may be inadvertently helping with refugee livelihoods, simply by employing these individuals in the private sector.

"Refugee livelihoods" is a concept worth noting in the language of international aid organizations. An innovative concept that moves from simple donation-based aid, refugee livelihoods looks to support and enable individuals to engage in meaningful employment and gain the dignity of self-sufficiency. Underlying this concept is the well-supported premise that people prefer to engage in work to support themselves and their families, versus being dependent on donations. In addition to benefitting the refugees, this solution is also more sustainable in the long term.

Technology innovations within the gig economy make paid work possible for people who may have previously had significant hurdles. For example, your web team or communications team may be translating work into multiple languages across your global organization. The translation industry is primarily comprised of freelance language professionals, even if your immediate supplier is a big-name agency. A refugee can work in language services between their language pair, even as they are learning a third language to join their local economy.

The individual freelancers simply do their part in the freelance economy, and have no reason to announce themselves as refugees. Why should they? In the freelance economy, as long as the freelancer does their work punctually and with good quality, it's a job well done.

In the merit-based economy of online freelance work, individuals may trigger bias against themselves if they announce themselves as refugees. In field interviews, we have found that work product quality came up in several discussions about targeting CSR toward refugees. In a team of language professionals with undisclosed refugee status, however, the refugee language professionals performed on par or better than the rest of the freelance group.

For these reasons and more, you may already be a CHRO with an extended workforce (including contractors and supply chain) that includes some notable proportion of refugee talent. The shape and transitions of the current workforce may have created pockets where your organization's needs have inadvertently aligned with the concept of refugee livelihoods.

By finding these pockets of alignment between your business's needs and refugee livelihoods, you will bring to light CSR that your organization is engaged in already, without realizing it. CSR has monetary and goodwill value to the overall picture of any organization. Additionally, since this inadvertent CSR has materialized without any need for supportive intervention (and no budget), you may find that a small supportive initiative can produce significant results.

You may choose to work with your CSR team to reinforce these specific areas of CSR. Since they have materialized inadvertently, you have advance notice that they are meaningful and beneficial for the refugee and company alike.

Operational Tips and Tricks

  • Review your freelancer contractors and sub-contractors for pockets of alignment with "refugee livelihoods"
  • Discuss with your CSR or communications team what the value of inadvertent CSR may be to your organization
  • Remember that freelancers stand to lose out due to prejudice against refugees — so take care to respect confidentiality

In the following articles of this series, we will show how you can go beyond identifying inadvertent CSR and using it to supercharge your CSR efforts for refugee freelance professionals.

The Gig Economy and Refugee Livelihoods

Have a Gig Economy Workstream? Hiring Refugees Can Bolster Your Workforce

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