A new corporate debate over whether Covid-19 vaccinations should be mandatory is one, says the Institute of Directors in South Africa (IoDSA), that boards should consider seriously, but with sensitivity and having taken the necessary legal advice.

Already one local healthcare and financial services company has made the decision to enforce vaccinations; and it’s common knowledge many other organisations are grappling with the issue as South Africa encouragingly sees a slowdown of infections due to the pandemic’s third wave, but with warning of a fourth.

IoDSA CEO Parmi Natesan comments: “Given the impact of Covid-19, not only on business but also on lives and livelihoods, this has become top-of-mind issue and one that boards have an ethical responsibility to deal with. In doing so they must act in the best interests of the organisation, ensure a safe environment for the organisation’s stakeholders and ensure that the organisation is and is seen to be a responsible corporate citizen.”

Natesan says directors should also weigh up the needs and risk assessment of the organisation against the constitutional rights of citizens. She says the mandatory vaccine debate would ideally be the purview of a board’s Social and Ethics Committee.

Organisations, Natesan says should also take note of a recent directive from the Labour Department that requires organisations to work towards finding a reasonable and equitable solution that accommodates parties who have valid reasons to not be vaccinated.

She adds: “Not only in South Africa but around the world this is an emotional and potentially divisive issue. The IoDSA recommends that organisations, if they have not done so already, begin a dialogue with unions and staff-organisations to find common ground.”

Natesan says boards should also be aware that a decision – either enforcing or not enforcing a vaccine – could have reputational impact and to that end they should have plans in place to deal with the potential fallout.

Internally the IoDSA is strongly encouraging its employees, members and other stakeholders to get vaccinated. “We believe it’s the right thing to do,” Natesan says. “Business and the economy in South Africa need to do this to move on.”