The evolving Covid-19 situation in Singapore turned the spotlight on the country’s blind spot: the plight of migrant workers. It became a topic of interest overnight, attracting social commentaries and inspiring an outpouring of empathy, donations and new social initiatives.
Lesser known is the fact that Asia Pacific Breweries Singapore (APB) has been lending its weight to bettering the lives of migrant workers for years before the welfare of this fringe community became a trending topic.
Through its registered charity arm APB Foundation, the company has been working with many social organisations, including the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics. They set up a safe house in 2014 that has since empowered and supported more than 2,039 migrant women who unwittingly fell victim to trafficking. It not only offered them shelter, but holistic support from welfare and legal aid as well.
Patricia Lee, Corporate affairs director
In April this year, the APB Foundation also donated $75,000 to the Migrant Workers’ Assistance Fund, the humanitarian charity arm of the Migrant Workers’ Centre. This not only helped to provide migrant workers with daily necessities and essentials while in isolation but also provided accommodation and meals for unemployed workers left in limbo due to international travel restrictions.
The company’s commitment to lifting this oft-forgotten demographic within Singapore is a demonstration of its strong belief in bettering the community. “We believe in building true human connections – not just between staff but also with the surrounding communities. Given that migrant workers – whether domestic helpers or construction workers – are among the most vulnerable and yet most overlooked groups in Singapore, we saw it as a worthy cause to support,” shares Patricia Lee, APB’s corporate affairs director.
This is also a product of the company’s values. Lee explains: “As the operating company of Heineken, APB’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategy follows Heineken’s sustainability strategy of ‘Brewing a Better World’. We consider the impact of our actions on our wider society and how we can grow the community we are situated in. This shapes everything we do, from equal-opportunity employment schemes to CSR initiatives.”
True to the ethos of putting people at the heart of everything, APB’s efforts go beyond monetary support. Staff are rallied to lend a helping hand in various charity outreach events throughout the year – and with impressive engagement rates of between 80 and 90 per cent.
“There isn’t a social work quota for our staff, but the volunteer programmes are something they genuinely look forward to,” says Lee. “We see our finance director cooking alongside the supply chain team at a community kitchen, and our managing director feeding lunch to people with disabilities during an excursion. It doesn’t matter which department you are in or the level you are at. Everybody contributes.”
These programmes have the effect of strengthening company values, too. “Just planning a day out for people with disabilities opens our eyes to the needs and limitations of our beneficiaries and reminds us of what it means to be truly inclusive,” illustrates Lee, who also shares that both departments and individual staff members, inspired by their social work experience through the company, have gone on to work on personal social work initiatives.
This success lies in its authenticity. “It is important for any company – regardless of size – that its CSR strategy is driven by values it truly believes in. Start from within your organisation and find out what your people identify with in terms of giving back to the community.
“This way, the work will be meaningful to staff and will help to align company values with the personal values of the individual. It will also instil a sense of pride among staff,” says Lee. “The cynics might say that the CSR work a company does is just for branding but your consumers, staff and beneficiaries would all see if you do not walk the talk.”
For APB, helping communities prosper stems from recognising companies as a part of society and the symbiotic relationship between the two. “It’s about realising how giving back to society can be a big driver for business success,” says Lee. “And how that can be a force for positive change.”