Civil unrest: plan and prepare to maintain business continuity

Recent civil unrest has highlighted the need to ensure business operations can be maintained as far as possible.

Last month’s looting and destruction in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng dealt a catastrophic blow to South Africa’s already-beleaguered economy, and for many company owners, the wanton violence served as a chilling reminder that they can never be too careful when it comes to planning for such eventualities.

The government estimates the unrest cost the country an estimated R50 billion, a staggering figure considering it lasted a little more than a week. Coupled with the economic devastation wrought by the Covid-19 pandemic, the deadly uprising could not have come at a worse time.

More than 150,000 permanent jobs in KwaZulu-Natal alone have been put at risk by the unrest, with many more affected in the informal sector.

The country is already gripped by record unemployment rates of 32.6 percent and 46.3 percent among the youth, and these events will have obliterated what little gains had been made in terms of job creation.

In the wake of the violence at the end of July, Industry and Competition minister Ebrahim Patel announced that the government had earmarked R3.9 billion from a R38 billion broader relief package to support the restoration of businesses, some of which may take as many as two years to get back on their feet.

According to Patel, the funding may include grants to afford businesses working capital for raw materials and to replace stock and damaged equipment.

But the riots have been a wake-up call to many that no matter how well-intentioned government might be in terms of providing reassurances and emergency funding to the private sector, uprisings of this nature can and do occur.

Enough has happened to cause them to rethink their operations, and seek out ways to further safeguard their businesses in the future. While extreme violence leaves business owners with no option other than to close their doors, there are avenues available to them that can ensure disruptions are mitigated as far as possible.

To the insured, short-term relief should be available in such cases. That at least would allow the rebuilding process to begin fairly swiftly. So far, the state-owned South African Risks Insurance Association (Sasria) appears to have been impressively responsive by paying out claims quickly. Banks have also come to the party in this regard.

However, it is also estimated that funding required by businesses will exceed the R15 billion Sasria says it has at its disposal. A lot can be learnt from how businesses in the United States rebuilt in the wake of the 2020 riots.

An aspect that has perhaps been overlooked is how much a company or business is valued by the community in which it is located. The US government provided millions of dollars in relief aid to looted businesses in Minneapolis, but the first steps in putting them back on the road to recovery were taken by neighbours and regular customers, who rallied to clean up fire and other damage.

Recognising the value of their communities and the assistance they offered, many firms, from the largest to the smallest, launched campaigns to get the message across that they understood people’s frustrations, thereby changing the narrative that they were an entity outside of the community.

For example, McDonald’s US head Joe Erlinger wrote in a LinkedIn post that the company had stayed too silent on issues that did not affect its business, and pledged to be more empathetic to racial injustice that had sparked the civil unrest. This acknowledgement was a crucial first step in bridging a generations-long divide.

Similarly in South Africa, communities even in areas untouched by the riots came out in huge numbers to protect shopping malls and warehouses. By doing so, local residents showed that these businesses were important to their lives and were respected as employers.

As much there was senselessness to the unrest, it did shine a disturbing light on the inequalities that continue to exist in South Africa, and certainly it is a debate that can no longer be swept under the rug.

From the standpoint of protecting infrastructure, the riots have provided some valuable insights.

Many businesses previously might not have had CCTV and security cameras in place, but they play a critical role. Security companies insist that would-be intruders are deterred by monitored surveillance cameras, even in instances of chaotic violence. Cameras also not only give notice of a possible attack, but can be used to identify perpetrators when police investigations are underway.

But one of the biggest takeaways from the recent riots is the need to ensure business continuity when unrest ensues. Losing days and even weeks to violence can do irreparable damage to a company, so it is vital that mechanisms are in place to ensure operations can continue.

One of these mechanisms is ISO 22301 Business Continuity, an offering falling under the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) bouquet.

Each standard within the ISO range indicates the tools required – policies, process flows, procedures, work instructions, business continuity plans, forms reports and statistical analysis, for example – to guide the organisation to fulfill its goals, targets and objectives.

Muhammad Ali (pictured), managing director and lead auditor of South African ISO standards training and implementation specialist WWISE, explains that ISO 22301 has never been more important for South African organisations.

“ISO 22301 establishes a framework for planning, establishing, implementing, operating, monitoring, reviewing, maintaining, and continuously improving a business continuity management system (BCMs), which ensures a business maintains its operations during a disaster like the pandemic or civil unrest,” he says.

“It is expected to assist companies in protecting against, preparing for, responding to and recovering from disruptive situations.”

Organisations that apply ISO 22301 will be able to show legislators, regulators and consumers that they follow best practices in BCM.

“A business continuity strategy combined with a management system should keep your employees aware of their duties and obligations,” Ali says.

“It is critical to be ready to adjust to established protocols and approved procedures in the event of an unforeseen incident, such as the unrest that has taken place, as well as what has happened with the pandemic.”

Businesses benefit from business continuity management in a number of ways. These include:

  • Complying with all applicable laws;
  • Gaining a marketing advantage;
  • Reducing reliance on individuals;
  • Avoiding large-scale damage;
  • Resilience in operations;
  • ISO 22301 identifies and manages current and future business threats; and
  • ISO 22301 shows customer, supplier and tender request resilience.

A Disaster Recovery Plan (DRP), Ali explains, describes the procedures organisations must follow in the event of an incident.

“A DRP is a documented, well-organised business continuity strategy that explains how to handle disruptive situations. It should include a short-term plan to repair and rebuild important business systems, as well as a problem-solving strategy that includes root cause identification and a long-term preventative strategy.
There are numerous alternatives available to guarantee that an organisation has a contingency strategy in place that gives the optimum answer.”