Poverty amid prosperity, what businesses are doing to help

Last updated 05:00 08/10/2017
Charlotte Curd/Fairfax NZ

There are about 220,000 children living in poverty.

Eat My Lunch founder Lisa King says poverty is unacceptable in a country like New Zealand.
James Crow founder of Nice Blocks says the living wage gives all New Zealanders a level playing field.
Judge Andrew Becroft, youth principal chief justice and soon-to-be Children's Commissioner
Westpac New Zealand boss David McLean says businesses can help move the dial using their skill base to help the community.

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In a new series with the Sustainable Business Council, Stuff will be looking into initiatives by New Zealand businesses that reduce negative impacts on society by aiming to achieve their sustainable development goals.

Businesses large and small are rolling up their sleeves to contribute the best way they can to put an end to poverty.

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, the 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.

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There are around 682,500 people deemed to be in poverty in this country, or one in seven households, 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 something that will take some time for us but it will definitely happen because like the kids we feed, many of our staff also have families and come from those backgrounds. So 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.

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Nice Blocks 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."

Children minister Judge Andrew Becroft said no business alone could solve poverty because it was a collaboration.

"Better than throwing money at the problem businesses should look at ways they can use their skills to educate and help those kiwis in need."

Westpac NZ chief executive David McLean said big businesses could collaborate with not-for-profit 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.

"Money, banks and financial education are correlated and that is an area where we think we can make a difference.

"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."

"If all businesses thought what is the little thing they can do, that can make quite a difference," McLean said.

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 own business practices to see what changes you could make to help staff or people living in your business' local community.

- Identify and work with local community organisations that are working with people in poverty to understand how you can contribute. This won't necessarily require money - expertise might be what is needed.

- Sunday Star Times


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