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Stepping Up: How Companies Are Helping First Responders During the Pandemic

Factory workers at the Suay Sew Shop in Los Angeles have partnered with Lucky Brand to sew medical masks for first responders during the coronavirus epidemic. (Photo/Lucky Brand)


When COVID-19 spread across the globe, medical workers traveled from afar to help their peers beleaguered by overcrowded and understaffed emergency rooms.

Unfortunately, many regions were not prepared for the pandemic and didn’t have enough personal protective equipment (PPE) needed to shield essential workers from the contagion. Hospital staff were forced to fashion masks out of bandanas and wear ski goggles to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

With inadequate government resources further hampered by delays, dozens of companies stepped up, converting their production facilities to make PPE for first responders, from jean brands sewing medical masks to brewers making hand sanitizer. 

ACC Docket reached out to the in-house counsel of companies that are helping the heroes on the front lines. Below, they share how they repurposed their supplies and skills to help stop the pandemic, and how you can galvanize your company to help too. 

Update May 12, 2020: This article now includes Alpargatas/Havaianas' response:

Alpargatas/Havaianas — José Daniello, Chairman of the Board of the Alpargatas Institute and Director of People

White medical shoes on a wood table.

Havaianas shoes made for healthcare workers. (Photo/Alpargatas)

What processes did Havaianas use before that made reconverting possible? (i.e., what tools, goods, techniques, etc. has your company traditionally used that made this effort happen?)

Havaianas is one of Alpargatas' brands. As a global company, we set up a crisis committee at the beginning of the coronavirus issue in China. We designed several scenarios and prepared to adapt the operation if needed. 

Administrative professionals are working from home all over the world. We shut down brick-and-mortar stores and advised our franchisees to do the same. We reduced production to safe levels and reinforced the essential product line to avoid any bottlenecks. 

Our factories have been adapted to churn out new products: masks, lab coats, and hospital footwear. We made a commitment to produce and donate one million masks. This number may increase if we are able to source more raw material. 

We are also donating 250,000 pairs of shoes to the underprivileged and healthcare professionals, the latter will receive a specific model for hospitals that we started to produce during the pandemic. In addition to footwear, 100,000 families will receive kits with essential products.

How are you balancing employee safety while ramping up production of equipment? 

Since March 23, we have reduced the number of employees in logistics and production operations, reaching a minimum level and keeping only those who are essential, complying with health safety guidelines and rules. We are maintaining strict safety and social distancing standards in order to comply with the schedules and standards established in each region where we operate. 

Group of employees taking a selfie at the Havaianas factory.

Havaianas employees at the Brazilian factory making medical-grade shoes to help in the pandemic. (Photo/Alpargatas)

How does Havaianas ensure that it’s complying with medical-grade sterilization techniques? 

After all the adaptations that we promoted in our factories, we had an inspection from Anvisa, the regulatory organization that works with the Brazilian Government Healthy Ministry. They approved all the initiatives and changes in our production. 

What internal stakeholders need to be involved to approve and implement these decisions? 

The strategic committee, which includes the general counsel, is responsible to approve all the decisions. 

How can in-house counsel who want to help during the pandemic get their stakeholders on board with implementing these decisions?

We have weekly lives streaming [calls] with all the employees to update the decisions, initiatives, and new processes during the coronavirus crisis. 

In order to make it possible for individuals, such as employees and customers, to participate in helping the society, the Alpargatas Institute (IA), the company’s social responsibility program, has created a fund. This fund will receive cash donations, which will be carefully recorded, and then converted into kits of essential products (e.g., hygiene products, food, and Havaianas) to be donated. 

The kits are R$15 and for each donated kit, the company will double the number of donations.

Lucky Brand — Maryn Miller, General Counsel 

A pile of denim medical masks.

Medical masks made with Lucky Brand denim by Suay Sew Shop employees. (Photo/Lucky Brand)

What processes did Lucky Brand use before that made reconverting possible? (i.e., what tools, goods, techniques, etc. has your company traditionally used that made this effort happen?)

As an apparel brand, it was fairly straight forward to pivot into non-medical cloth masks. Through our collaboration with LA City, we identified an appropriate pleated mask template, created by Kaiser Permanente and shared on LAprotects.org

With these tools and an existing apparel vendor base, we were able to identify a domestic vendor that was already sampling the same non-medical masks. Because we were flexible about fabric style choices, it allowed us to produce our first 10,000 masks within one and a half weeks. Since it was domestic production, we could deliver to our distribution center within four days.

We have also partnered with other brands in The Open Innovation Coalition, led by Rothy’s and including Fabletics, Marine Layer, Outerknown, and Thirdlove, among others. The purpose of the coalition is to gather others within our industry to information and resource share to factories currently producing protective equipment. The coalition has routed fabric and other supplies to Suay Sew Shop, who are making a mask for medical and essential workers when there is a lack of N95s. 

Factory workers making medical masks.

Suay Sew Shop factory worker using Lucky Brand denim to make personal protective equipment. (Photo/Lucky Brand)

How are you balancing employee safety while ramping up production of equipment? 

All of our corporate employees are working from home and have been sent cloth masks for their protection. 

Our third-party distribution centers remain open and Lucky has given them the same masks to protect themselves at work. These distribution centers have also instituted social distancing measures on the floor for employee protection. 

All of our stores are closed to the public, but 50 of approximately 200 are fulfilling online orders. While these store associates are working alone in store, they have also been given cloth masks to protect themselves going to and from stores. 

In addition to sending all employees cloth masks, our human resources department has widely communicated information on social distancing measures and how to protect oneself. 

The factory that produces our masks for sale is a contractor. All their employees have their temperature checked when they enter the building. They are aware of symptoms to look out for, are spaced properly to ensure social distancing, and wear masks and gloves at work.

What internal stakeholders need to be involved to approve and implement these decisions? 

We have a crisis management team made up of the following positions: 

  • Chief financial officer and chief administrative officer 
  • VP Human Resources – Corporate and field 
  • Director, Loss Prevention and Corporate Security 
  • Director, OMNI operations and communications 
  • Director, facilities 
  • General counsel
  • Chief technology officer 
  • Corp communications, HR program administrator 
  • CEO

Suay Sew Shop Owner Bobby Ahn wearing a medical mask made from Lucky Brand denim.

Suay Sew Shop Owner Bobby Ahn wearing a medical mask made from Lucky Brand denim. (Photo/Lucky Brand)

How can in-house counsel who want to help during the pandemic get their stakeholders on board with implementing these decisions? 

Stakeholders have been fully supportive of these decisions and are fully invested in efforts to help our community during this crisis, especially where the stakeholders see that the teams have thought through the legal, operational, and logistical considerations upfront. 

How can the public support Lucky Brand’s efforts? 

Charitable donations are always a personal choice in both amount and recipient. At Lucky, we have offered our customers a few options to make an impact. They can purchase a five pack of masks and donate a five pack to our community partners and other beneficiaries recommend by the Los Angeles mayor’s office. 

Our #LuckyTogether page has information about how to donate directly to Suay Sew Shop, who are making masks for front line workers. This same page includes the donation pages of Lucky’s community partners who service the unhoused in Los Angeles. Customers are welcome to choose how they want to participate and with who. 

AB InBev — Cybelle Buyck, VP of Legal and Corporate Affairs  

Line of clear bottles of hand sanitizer in front of a white background.

Hand sanitizers made by AB InBev for medical staff working during the pandemic. (Photo/AB InBev)

How is AB InBev helping the medical community during the pandemic? 

We are a global company but strongly rooted in the local communities where we brew our beers, which is why we acted quickly to support medical efforts in these communities. 

As [medical] supplies shorten in the fight against COVID-19, our breweries are producing much-needed disinfectant alcohol and over one million bottles of hand sanitizer gel to distribute for free to hospitals and frontline workers in some of the most impacted areas.  

We use the residual alcohol from the brewing process and work with excellent partners who complement our production capacity and determination to help with their expertise in making biocide products. 

Additionally, in Belgium and the Netherlands, we are donating billboard space to support public health campaigns by FIFA and the World Health Organization (WHO), as well as the Dutch government. 

We are also helping the medical community by donating water and non-alcoholic beers to hospitals and medical workers to support their work and show our appreciation. In some parts of the world, we are working with local authorities to build modular hospitals. 

What processes did AB InBev use before that made reconverting possible? (i.e., what tools, goods, techniques, etc. has your company traditionally used that made this effort happen?) 

We pride ourselves on being an agile company, able to act and react quickly. In order to produce disinfectant alcohol and hand sanitizers, we used our residual alcohol left over from de-alcoholising our non-alcoholic beers.  

In addition, we reoriented multiple departments, such as procurement teams to purchase the packaging, our marketing team to develop the labels, our transport team to help with logistics, and our legal and corporate affairs teams to find the right places to distribute and cooperate with the governments’ crisis coordination centers and hospitals. 

Man wearing a hat and bright yellow jacket standing in front of white and yellow cases of beer in a factory.

AB InBev employee in one of the warehouses. (Video still/AB InBev)

How are you balancing employee safety while ramping up production of equipment? 

The health and safety of our people is our highest priority and we won’t take any shortcuts in this area. 

We have implemented a significant number of measures across our organization to ensure our colleagues have the support and resources that they need to stay safe and healthy. For instance, we proactively introduced enhanced cleaning cycles, social distancing measures, and entry-checks in many countries before they were mandated by the governments to safeguard our people. 

Where we do produce hand sanitizer locally (e.g., in Germany or our small test brewery in Leuven, Belgium), in all circumstances, we ensure the strictest safety guidelines. 

How does AB InBev ensure that it’s complying with medical-grade sterilization techniques? 

When we started the process to produce biocide products to help our communities, it was outside our comfort zone. We are brewers, not biocide producers. We started looking for experienced, fast-moving, and innovative partners who were familiar with the biocide regulatory framework.  

Together with our partners, we were able to follow and adhere to the regulatory framework and in addition we received assistance from local governments and industry associations. Many governments made emergency exceptions in regards to obtaining biocide licenses and the European Union decided to release product standards free of charge, which has been a tremendous help. 

How is AB InBev helping the public at large during this pandemic? 

In addition to helping the public health sector, we are supporting our partners in the hospitality sector. As restaurants, bars, pubs, and clubs in many European countries have closed their doors, as part of government efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19, we’ve acted quickly to support the hospitality sector.  

In addition to offering deferred rent payments, free tap cleaning services, and keg restocks, our team has developed a series of online voucher platforms in Belgium, the United Kingdom, Italy and France, which allow individuals to pre-pay for beers in their favorite bar to redeem once reopened. 

We’ve also pledged to match each donation, so pubs and bars get double the immediate cash injection. So far, almost 500,000 beers have been “prepaid.” 

In addition, we have also supported our local communities through donating laptops to support distance learning for children and young students. 

Female employee counting cases of bottles of hand sanitizer in an office.

Employee counting hand sanitizers at an AB InBev facility. (Video still/AB InBev)

What internal stakeholders need to be involved to approve and implement these decisions? 

Helping to combat the effects of COVID-19 for our colleagues, customers, and communities has been a company-wide effort. All teams are involved and needed to implement decisions, ranging from our brewery teams to marketing, procurement, legal and corporate affairs, IT, and logistics colleagues.  

We have an ongoing dialogue with our global senior leadership team but also operate as a European team to decide how best to support the communities we live and work in.

How can in-house counsel who want to help during the pandemic get their stakeholders on board with implementing these decisions?

In-house counsel have to radically prioritize time and resource to deliver workable solutions for rapid – and compliant — deployment of critical community support measures. Achieving that for each initiative means focusing on its specific legal challenges (e.g., permits for hand sanitizer) and covering compliance triggers.  

At the same time, in-house counsel need to keep all stakeholders on the right path, even in tumultuous times, through a consistent drumbeat of reminders on data protection, antitrust, anti-corruption, anti-fraud, and other compliance requirements. 

Once it’s clear that in-house counsel are on top of initiatives and retaining broader compliance control even in a crisis, stakeholders are confident to back novel measures to the fullest.

Operation BBQ Relief — David Rosen, General Counsel 

Rows of barbeque meals prepared in styrofoam to-go boxes.

Meals made by Operation BBQ Relief for hospital staff on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo/Operation BBQ Relief)

Operation BBQ Relief has been helping communities affected by disasters across the United States since 2011. How does your team determine which areas to help?

Since 2011, Operation BBQ Relief has provided meals to those in need and to support first responders, military personnel, and veterans. As a 501(c)(3), our charitable mission is to provide comfort to those in need by connecting, inspiring, serving, and educating in communities far and wide. Whether it is in response to a natural disaster, or as is this case now, a pandemic, we are doing our best to respond and make a positive impact in as many communities as possible.

Through our new program, Operation Restaurant Relief, we empower a local restaurant to reopen and rehire formerly laid off employees while providing 2,500 free meals per day to their community. The Operation BBQ Relief programs department developed this program and implemented it within a few weeks, and the results thus far have been very successful. 

What we need most of all is funding to activate in new areas. We rely heavily on our corporate sponsors and donors. Our COVID-19 deployments started in our hometown of Kansas City, and expanded to a Kansas City restaurant, South Carolina restaurant, then via the sponsorship of Dignity Health, we activated a restaurant in Bakersfield, CA. 

The Pennsylvania Department of Health Services contracted us to feed 180,000 meals per week in conjunction with The Salvation Army. We understand the need at this time is far and wide, and we are trying our best to help in as many places as possible. We hope to work with corporations ready to deploy our resources in their local community to feed those in need and get seven to 10 employees working again at each restaurant. 

How is Operation BBQ Relief helping medical, first responders, or other essential workers during the coronavirus pandemic? 

They have been one of Operation BBQ Relief’s targeted beneficiary groups. Our restaurant contractors have been delivering meals to their facilities. 

Hospital staff in blue scrubs and medical masks posing with styrofoam boxes of food.

Hospital staff with food prepared by Operation BBQ Relief volunteers. (Photo/Operation BBQ Relief)

How has Operation BBQ Relief helped other community members during this pandemic? 

Operation BBQ Relief understands the comfort a hot meal brings to both the body and soul. Through Operation Restaurant Relief, we are providing that comfort to those in need, first responders, and other front-liners. The added benefit is the reemployment of previously laid off employees at our restaurant contractors. 

How is Operation BBQ Relief ensuring the safety and health of its chefs and volunteers during the pandemic? 

Operation BBQ Relief is committed to following all US federal, state, and Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines, with relation to all laws, rules, and regulations. During this crisis, we have continuously updated our standard operating procedures and policies to reflect the changing guidelines. 

We have implemented many new operational protocols governing mask usage, gloves, mandatory glove changes, sanitization of all hard surfaces every 30 minutes, checking the temperature of incoming people and then again randomly throughout the day, and many other [rules].

What internal stakeholders need to be involved to approve and implement these decisions? 

The Operation BBQ Relief programs department evaluates potential deployment sites and then the CEO with input from the management team makes the final determination. 

Man cooking meat in a restaurant kitchen.

Operation BBQ Relief volunteer cooking meat for hospital staff. (Photo/Operation BBQ Relief)

How can in-house counsel who want to help during the pandemic get their stakeholders on board with implementing these decisions? 

Operation BBQ Relief is actively looking for corporate partners and donors that want to make a positive impact in their local communities. Please share this information with decision makers within your corporate foundation, corporate social responsibility department, marketing department, and the executives. 

How can the public support Operation BBQ Relief efforts (aka deployments)? 

Please visit www.obr.org to get involved and become a registered volunteer or make a donation.


For more advice on the coronavirus pandemic, visit our Coronavirus Response Resource Page.

About the Author

Karmen Fox is the web content editor of ACC Docket.


The information in any resource collected in this virtual library should not be construed as legal advice or legal opinion on specific facts and should not be considered representative of the views of its authors, its sponsors, and/or ACC. These resources are not intended as a definitive statement on the subject addressed. Rather, they are intended to serve as a tool providing practical advice and references for the busy in-house practitioner and other readers.