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Journalist Deaths Drop to Lowest Point in 16 Years, But Press Freedoms Continue to Decline

Map colors indicate the press freedom situation across the world from good to very bad.

The number of journalists killed worldwide reached a 16-year low in 2019, according to Reporters Without Borders. Forty-nine journalists were killed this year, down from 80 journalists killed on average over the past two decades.

In its annual Press Freedom Index, the NGO cited a de-escalation in several war zones, such as Syria and Iraq, as the main reason behind the drop. Deterioration of press freedom continues, however, across the world and is cause for alarm, the Paris-based NGO states.

Major economies in the United States, India and Brazil all saw their press freedom rankings slip as tense political climates created difficult working environments for journalists. The Asia-Pacific region, however, showed mixed results, with Australia sliding in the rankings and Malaysia seeing marked improvement. “Malaysia … highlight[s] the degree to which political change can radically transform the climate for journalists and how a country’s political ecosystem can directly affect press freedom,” the report read.

89% of Executives Reject the Idea That Companies Exist Solely To Make a Profit

Source: GlobeScan Incorporated

This month marks the 50th anniversary of Milton Friedman’s influential statement that: “There is one and only one social responsibility of business — to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits.”  

A recent survey, A Test of Corporate Purpose, shows that 89% of corporate executives and 76% of investors now disagree with Friedman’s notion that “the social responsibility of a business is to increase profits.” Last year, the Business Roundtable defined the purpose of a corporation as needing to promote an economy that serves all people, not just shareholders. 

The global pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement this year have also pushed companies to seek engagement with a wider group of stakeholders. Employees and consumers have been demanding a more socially aware agenda from companies rather than a singular focus on profits.

US Boards Are Not Diversifying Fast Enough

Source: New York Times; Institutional Shareholder Services’ ESG division

Despite a lot of activist pressure, representation of minority ethnic and racial groups on U.S. boards has increased by only 2.5% over the last five years. None of the industries surveyed fill even 20% of their board seats with members of minority groups, according to the Institutional Shareholder Services. 

IT company boards reflect the most diversity — at just 17% — up 3.9 percentage points from 2015, followed by utility companies at 16.5%. Both the energy and real estate industries suffer the lowest levels of diversity, at 9% and 10%, respectively. Many big companies are taking the The Board Challenge — a pledge to add at least one Black director to their boards. But ISS found that Black women represent only 1.5% of more than 20,000 directors analyzed. 

The U.S. is lagging behind other countries in workplace diversity, despite the majority of the American public wanting to see change. “A diverse and inclusive workforce ensures that the innovations created are reflective of the organization’s diverse customer base,” according to Marsh and McLennan Insights. 

US Active Oil Rig Count Collapses From COVID-19

Source: Baker Hughes, North America Rig Count

The U.S. active oil and gas rig count hit a record low of 251 in July due to the economic damage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic — the year started with the rig count at 796. Prior to COVID-19, the lowest rig count was 404 during the oil crash of 2014. 

Texas, the largest oil-producing state in the U.S., lost 336 land rigs this year. Each of these rigs creates an estimated 31 jobs immediately and more than 300 in the long term. 

The pandemic first majorly impacted the oil industry at the beginning of March 2020 when oil prices plummeted. By August, the oil industry had lost more than 100,000 jobs. Although the U.S. administration implemented measures to bail out big oil companies, thousands of workers are still struggling financially. Devashree Saha of The World Resources Institute states that government responses need to prioritize workers and communities to ensure they “are not collateral damage in the pandemic-fed downturn or during the longer-term energy transition.”

COVID-19 Threatens a Decade of Progress Against Poverty for Low-Income Countries

Source: International Monetary Fund

As the percentage of those living in poverty grows, household consumption declines, prompting concern over “the permanent loss of productive capacity,” in low-income developing countries (LIDC) says the IMF. Rising levels of poverty also threaten progress in health, education and gender equality, with implications for lifetime earnings and savings.

LIDCs experienced 5% growth just last year, and they even contributed a larger portion of COVID-19 financial support toward health compared to advanced or emerging economies. But they aren’t able to provide the same level of fiscal support as a public safety net or to stimulate economic activity.   

More vulnerable countries may look to their international community for support, for example, in the provision of health supplies, supply chain protection and financial assistance, including debt payment deferrals. The virus is only the first challenge to overcome, says the IMF, as “the COVID-19 pandemic will be defeated only when it and its socioeconomic consequences are overcome everywhere.” 

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