The idea of ethical business during COVID-19: the Italian experience of Ecogest

The idea of ethical business during COVID-19: the Italian experience of Ecogest

Nearly eight months after the start of the coronavirus pandemic, Italy appears to be a completely different country. A wounded country with an economy that causes concern not only for the present moment, but also for future prospects. 

It is a country where the first spring coronavirus national lockdown lasted two months, and the subsequent “mini” local lockdowns have marked the daily life of Italians since September. This condition has shown the inability of the public system to curb the phenomenon, but above all to organise a restart that today seems far from reality and strongly compromised. 

In this complex and dramatic framework, the role of some companies has stood out. This situation has involved not only the large-scale industry segment – potentially more interested in state aid, than in a real “resistance”- but also small and medium-sized businesses, who have shown a great response capacity, confirming that they are, without fear of contradiction, the real backbone of the country. 

Such a reaction not only allowed some enterprises not to benefit from the redundancy fund and other shortcuts, regularly provided by law (and Ecogest is very proud not to have succumbed to the temptation of transforming themselves from a productive business into an assisted one), but also to maintain employment levels unchanged, despite the inevitable drop in turnover and operational difficulties that are easily imaginable and common to all European countries. 

Considering these circumstances, they have managed to avoid any form of dismissal, and not to take advantage of the redundancy fund even for a single hour. They also have been able to provide financial support through productivity bonuses to their site workers, who have never stopped working, also during the coronavirus lockdown. This has been possible thanks to specific derogation, in as much as they are providers of essential services, and has allowed them to show the market and the country the reaction force, missing in most of the “Italian System”. That also has made them aware of the need to support the entire chain, including subcontractors and suppliers, by shortening payment times beyond contractual obligations, often replacing the state itself, which has not been able to coordinate its times with extremely tight time frames of many small businesses brought down by closures and restrictions. 

However, Ecogest’s commitment did not end with these initiatives. Indeed, from these choices the Majority Shareholder — Valerio Molinari, the CEO — Michela Nanni, and the whole management of the company, which is entirely owned by the Molinari family, found the life- blood and motivation to start an unprecedented welfare plan for its employees. 

The starting point is the social vision of the business activity that the Molinari family has always wanted as a point of reference for making choices. No employees, even the simplest, are elements to gain profit from at any cost, but they are people and collaborators, whose personal, family and human conditions cannot be separated from the productivity and the serenity in the workplace. “Think about your work; we will take care of the rest”: it is a sort of reinterpretation applied to the business logic of the famous “I care” that have set the course of Obama’s 8-year presidency in the U.S. 

Starting from these principles, what has been done thereafter was a simple practical application of what was imagined during these months. In this way, often having to replace the distracted and absent state, Ecogest wanted to take care of its employees and their families. 

To achieve this, the company has followed three fundamental guidelines: safety at the workplace, personal assistance for employees and their families, and special attention to the education of their minor children. 

The first guideline allowed to secure every workplace, both offices and worksites, through several activities, including periodical sanitisation treatments of all indoors spaces, routine monitoring of body temperature, monthly screening through nasal swabs and molecular blood tests, disinfection of work tools and vehicles, constant and continuous supply of any necessary protective equipment for collaborators and employees, even when finding masks, gloves and disinfectants has become in Italy a kind of treasure hunt. 

Immediately afterwards they have adopted support measures for employees and their families. Among them: increase in the net remuneration of all site workers during the most difficult phase of the pandemic, start of a corporate welfare program, in accordance with a primary national banking institution, which gives the access to an online platform and the possibility to download vouchers for essential goods or medical care entirely covered by the company. Finally, the latest initiative is taking off these days, and it will provide supplementary health coverage for each employee in service. 

Ecogest has also turned its attention to the employees’ children: at a time when most Italian schools are closed and students have to attend classes online, it is necessary to fill the technological gap affecting less affluent families. For this reason, but also on the occasion of Christmas, they wanted to provide every workers’ school-age child with a tablet to allow them to be able at any time to attend classes from home, even in the most remote corners of the country, avoiding the risk of being left behind. 

Few simple initiatives, easy to understand and even easier to implement, so that each employee or collaborator feels part of our big family. 

This ethical vision does not preclude the company from seeking a profit, but simply lead to do it without ever mortifying the dignity of no one, remembering that behind every desk or machine, and on every worksite along the Italian highway network, there are men and women contributing to guarantee the company’s stability, but above all to provide essential services to the country. 



Ecogest express its gratitude and its deep respect to each of them. 

Liesbeth CasierSenior Policy Advisor, International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD)


Liesbeth Casier is a Senior Policy Advisor with IISD’s Economic Law and Policy Program. She works with the Public Procurement and Infrastructure Finance team on research and advisory services that involve innovation in public procurement. She also works on IISD’s Sustainable Asset Valuation. Liesbeth has advised governments in Bhutan, Canada, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, India, Morocco, Paraguay, Senegal, South Africa and the Netherlands.
 
Liesbeth also works extensively with the European Commission, the Inter-American Development Bank, the World Bank and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) on policy frameworks and the business case for sustainable infrastructure. She represents IISD at the OECD Working Group on Leading Practitioners on Public Procurement.
  
Liesbeth previously worked with UN Environment and started her career as consultant in auditing and corporate finance with a family-owned consultancy business in Belgium. Liesbeth has an academic background in political science and law.