Poverty amid pros­per­ity

Busi­nesses large and small are work­ing cre­atively to put an end to poverty. Anuja Nad­karni re­ports.

Sunday Star-Times - - BUSINESS SUSTAINABILITY -

"We've been stuck at defin­ing poverty rather than ad­dress­ing it." Eat My Lunch founder Lisa King

In 2015, New Zealand along with sev­eral other coun­tries adopted a set of goals out­lined by the United Na­tions to end poverty, pro­tect the planet and en­sure pros­per­ity, as part of a new sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment agenda.

But Lisa King, founder of the buy one, gift one lunch model Eat My Lunch said she had seen lit­tle progress in the state of poverty in the two years she had been in busi­ness.

‘‘Poverty is un­ac­cept­able in a coun­try as rich as ours.

‘‘It’s great to see par­ties talk­ing about it but un­til now we’ve been stuck at defin­ing poverty rather than ad­dress­ing it.

‘‘We still have a long way to go,’’ King said.

There are around 682,500 Ki­wis liv­ing in poverty, around 220,000 of whom are chil­dren.

King said it was up to busi­nesses to share the re­spon­si­bil­ity in deal­ing with the is­sue, rather than re­ly­ing on any one group or or­gan­i­sa­tion.

While all her staff were paid above the min­i­mum wage, King said it was the busi­ness’ goal to in­crease this up to the liv­ing wage, which is $20.20 per hour.

‘‘It’s re­ally im­por­tant for us to pay them a de­cent in­come to look af­ter their fam­i­lies.’’

Ice-cream com­pany Nice Blocks be­gan pay­ing staff the liv­ing wage be­fore the cam­paign was launched in 2012.

Founder James Crow said pay­ing a liv­ing wage of­fered New Zealan­ders a level play­ing field, es­pe­cially for those work­ing on the front line.

New Zealand has more than 40,000 home­less peo­ple, half be­ing in Auck­land.

As peo­ple had a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of so­cial is­sues such as poverty or about the cli­mate to­day, cus­tomers were de­mand­ing busi­nesses to take stronger ac­tion for the fu­ture gen­er­a­tion, he said.

And al­though there was a strong push from con­sumers by pur­chas­ing from brands they eth­i­cally aligned with, there had been an even greater push from within the work­force.

‘‘There has been a gen­er­a­tional shift and busi­nesses can no longer con­tinue work­ing with­out think­ing about how they can make so­ci­ety bet­ter or the en­vi­ron­ment,’’ Crow said.

‘‘And em­ploy­ees are de­mand­ing that change, whether that’s giv­ing back, get­ting paid what they think they de­serve or flex­i­ble work­ing hours.’’

West­pac NZ chief ex­ec­u­tive David McLean said big busi­nesses could col­lab­o­rate with not-for­profit or­gan­i­sa­tions to bring dif­fer­ent so­lu­tions to the ta­ble.

The bank has set up pro­grammes where its staff can vol­un­teer to ed­u­cate their com­mu­ni­ties on fi­nan­cial lit­er­acy, and has also been pro­vid­ing loans to com­mu­nity hous­ing providers in­clud­ing Hous­ing New Zealand, help­ing those who can’t af­ford a de­posit for their home.

‘‘It’s about iden­ti­fy­ing the things busi­nesses can do to move the dial within their skill base,’’ McLean said. ‘‘Busi­nesses can’t suc­ceed in so­ci­eties that fail. If we can help ad­dress some so­cial prob­lems then hope­fully that has a pos­i­tive im­pact on peo­ple’s lives, a pos­i­tive im­pact for the econ­omy and a pos­i­tive im­pact for our busi­ness.’’

Tips for end­ing poverty

- En­gage with your low­est paid em­ploy­ees to un­der­stand bar­ri­ers they may be fac­ing on hous­ing af­ford­abil­ity or other con­straints to liv­ing with dig­nity.

- Use those in­sights to re­view your busi­ness prac­tices to make changes to help staff or peo­ple liv­ing in your busi­ness’ lo­cal com­mu­nity.

- Work with lo­cal com­mu­nity or­gan­i­sa­tions to un­der­stand how you can con­trib­ute. This won’t nec­es­sar­ily re­quire money ex­per­tise might be what is needed.

LAWRENCE SMITH/STUFF

James Crow (left) and Tommy Holden of Nice Blocks be­lieve in the liv­ing wage.

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