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22 Apr 2020

Ron Popper, Global Business Initiative for Human Rights

Commentary: Corporate crisis management teams should use human rights specialists to ensure ethical responses to COVID-19

“Pandemic shows need to integrate human rights specialists in crisis management teams”, 20 April 2020

How many…companies, apart from extractives – whose business resilience and continuity depends on in-depth community, environmental and human and physical security knowledge – have such people at the table when a crisis breaks? [C]orporate human rights specialists often have on-the-ground experience of particular issues, their subtleties…, historical background [and]…may…have…contacts from whom to access early information.

[During a crisis]…, stakeholders…, must be contacted, supported or engaged. Having a human rights specialist or sustainability expert…can immediately influence the approach…towards them. For example, women…, migrant workers… and discriminated-against minorities – all of whom could have different histories, pressures and needs – may be particularly vulnerable in a crisis.

[As] we witness some companies refusing to fulfil contractual obligations with suppliers [globally]…due to COVID-19…, human rights professionals can point…to the…social, labour and economic consequences of such practice[s]. A purely legalistic or communications-driven approach may fail to spot…the true impact of the negative consequences of a crisis. Corporate crisis management teams which have not yet brought such expertise on board need to:

  • Be trained on human rights issues that can arise during a crisis
  • [Knowledge] about international and national human rights law and standards…
  • Increase their understanding of how companies may cause, contribute to or be directly linked to negative human rights impacts in a crisis…
  • Understand better the human rights factors that may determine an individual or group’s background and response to or behaviour in a crisis