COVID-19: New types of protest, advocacy & demands from business-focused HRDs & groups

The COVID-19 pandemic and its response are an impediment to physical organizing and human rights defense around the world - but in the midst of this evolving situation, many human rights defenders and the groups they belong to are organizing in new and innovative ways to continue to denounce business-related human rights abuses, including abuses of communities' land rights, labour rights, environmental degradation, and corrupt practices that involve businesses. Given the scale of the crisis, many see it as an opportunity to replace exploitative practices with just, equitable, and accountable new systems.

Our coverage of COVID-19 response on HRDs and civic freedoms is available here.

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1 June 2020

CIVICUS says attempts to reassert austerity or prioritise needs of big business must be avoided in post-COVID recovery

Author: Sonia Elks, Thomson Reuters

"World urged to rebuild greener, more equal economies after coronavirus", 28 May 2020

Plans to rebuild shattered economies after the new coronavirus pandemic offer a chance to create greener, fairer societies amid growing anger worldwide at rising inequality, the civil society group CIVICUS said... The crisis has deepened and laid bare economic inequalities, with many essential roles such as food delivery and medical care undertaken by people with low pay, job insecurity and few social safety nets... "This is really a turning point," chief programmes officer Mandeep Tiwana told..., adding that desperation could boil over into unrest if action was not taken. More than a billion workers, many of whom are low-paid, could lose their jobs to the pandemic, the International Labour Organization warned last month... CIVICUS said that any attempts to reassert austerity policies or prioritise the needs of big business in recovery must be avoided as the impacts would hurt those who have already suffered the most... Protests in 2019 already showed a clear trend in calling for fairer economies, CIVICUS said in its annual report, drawing on 50 interviews with civil society activists and leaders from around the world... Many demonstrations were triggered by economic pressures - from transport costs in Chile to fuel prices in Zimbabwe - but grew into wider campaigns against inequities and corruption.. Separately, campaigners called for global reforms to block corporations that use tax havens from receiving COVID-19 bailouts and to ensure that developing countries earn the revenues they need to finance their recovery from coronavirus... ..

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6 May 2020

EU response to COVID-19 must focus on realising socio-economic rights & prioritise companies that respect human rights, says ENNHRI

Author: European Network of National Human Rights Institutions

"The EU must put economic and social rights at the heart of its economic response to COVID-19", 6 May 2020

ENNHRI, the European Network of National Human Rights Institutions, welcomes the EU’s steps to stimulate the economy and support livelihoods in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, it is crucial that all human rights, including economic and social rights, guide the implementation of such measures...

In particular...:

1. Criteria for the EU’s recovery fund must be guided by and aimed at realising economic and social rights...

2. Financing for COVID-19 response measures must not discriminate...

4. Implementation of the ‘Support to mitigate Unemployment Risks in an Emergency’ (SURE) instrument must consider informal economy workers...

5. Funding for small and medium-sized businesses should prioritise companies that respect human rights

In the implementation of the pan-European guarantee fund to support small and medium-sized businesses, the European Investment Bank and EU Member States should prioritise companies operating in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and environmental sustainability standards. To take an example from Denmark, businesses that evade taxes or pay dividends and bonuses in 2020-21 and that do not comply with human rights due diligence (domestically and in their supply and value chains) are excluded from financial support...

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4 May 2020

Calls grow for beneficiaries of COVID-19 bailout to reduce carbon emissions, halt dividend payments & share buybacks and not use tax havens

Author: Simon van Dorpe, Elisa Braun & Thibault Larger, Politico

"If you want a bailout in Europe, don’t use tax havens", 23 April 2020

A growing number of European governments are insisting there won't be any emergency cash during the coronavirus pandemic for businesses registered in tax havens like Panama and the Cayman Islands...

[T]ax justice advocates say that these national measures could help boost transparency and, ultimately, a level playing field in global corporate taxation. “This is an important symbolic first step,” said Quentin Parrinello, who works on tax policy for the NGO Oxfam, “but much will depend on the modalities of the different proposals.” ...

[C]alls are growing to spend the unprecedented amounts of taxpayers’ money in bailouts ethically. In 2020, that means the beneficiaries should drastically reduce carbon emissions, not engage in dividend payments or share buybacks for a while and not dodge taxes...

For Oxfam’s EU tax policy adviser Chiara Putaturo, a better condition on the corporate bailout would be “to require public country-by-country reporting, so it would be possible to see where the money goes and whether companies are engaged in tax avoidance practices.”

Currently, only tax authorities know the full breakdown of where multinationals pay their taxes...

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3 May 2020

AICHR: ASEAN and its Member States must integrate human rights values in Covid-19 response

Author: AICHR

"Press Release on the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (Covid-19) by the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR)," 01 May 2020

...We express our serious concerns about the spread of COVID-19 and its negative effects on the lives and well-being of the people of ASEAN...

We are heartened by the outcomes from the Special ASEAN Summit on COVID-19 and the Special ASEAN Plus Three Summit on COVID-19 on 14 April 2020 which emphasised on enhancing a caring and sharing ASEAN Community and highlighting the importance of taking a coherent, multi-sectoral, multi-stakeholder and whole-of-ASEAN Community approach in ensuring ASEAN’s timely and effective response to the pandemic. In line with the above, we expect all ASEAN sectoral bodies and entities, as well as Member States, to integrate human rights values and the principles of non-discrimination, participation and inclusion in their responses to the crisis.

...[W]e would like to highlight that the right to health is guaranteed to all people. Measures taken to protect public health must ensure that all persons at risk or infected by COVID-19, including women, children, the elderly, persons with disabilities, migrant workers, and vulnerable and marginalised groups, can also access essential healthcare services...

...We underscore the right of people and community to access to information in this context and pledge to work within ASEAN and its Member States to continue to promote and protect the right to freedom of opinion and expression – the right to seek, receive and impart information – as guaranteed by Articles 8 and 23 of the AHRD...


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1 May 2020

GBI & Clifford Chance explore growing calls for mandatory human rights due diligence & the effect of COVID-19

Author: Global Business Initiative on Human Rights & Clifford Chance LLP

“Navigating the changing business and human rights legal landscape - from GBI and Clifford Chance”, 1 May 2020

Over the past year, an increasing number of governments...have introduced, or begun to explore, mandatory reporting and due diligence requirements to prompt businesses to manage their human rights impacts. The pace at which such requirements are...introduced may slow temporarily...[due to] COVID-19. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has also drawn stark attention to the vulnerability of many workers in global value chains, arguably strengthening the case for further mandatory measures...

Notably, business organisations and individual companies are increasingly voicing support for mandatory human rights reporting and due diligence requirements. This increased regulatory focus on businesses’ human rights responsibilities was envisaged by the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGP) – the authoritative global framework for addressing business-related human rights risks. However, regulation will only help achieve meaningful outcomes if it is well-designed.

To achieve this, governments should consult widely when crafting new measures and then monitor implementation to understand what works, obtaining feedback from relevant stakeholders to identify any unintended consequences. Businesses have an important role to play to help shape and strengthen these developments to ensure they are both practicable and effective.

In this latest briefing, GBI and Clifford Chance provide a practical summary of the latest developments and share 5 things companies need to know to position themselves to navigate the changing legal landscape. 

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27 April 2020

Germany’s top politicians, companies throw weight behind green stimulus

Author: Julian Wettengel, Clean Energy Wire

Top politicians from Germany and more than 60 large companies have warned that the climate crisis must continue to be a top priority, even as the world economies grapple with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Ahead of this week’s digital Petersberg Climate Dialogue, environment minister Svenja Schulze said the Paris Agreement should remain the “compass” for the economic recovery after the current crisis...

Merkel said the coronavirus crisis would certainly leave its mark on the German EU Council presidency in the second half of 2020. “That means we have to do something to strengthen Europe’s economy, social cohesion and think about the future – and that means climate and environmental questions,” said Merkel. “We will have the climate issues on our agenda just like we will have the health issues.” ...

[A]n alliance of more than 60 large German and international companies – including ThyssenKrupp, Bayer and Vattenfall – called on governments to introduce climate-friendly, long-term economic stimulus programmes. In a joint statement organised by business initiative Foundation 2° (Stiftung 2°), the companies call on the German government to closely link measures to overcome the coronavirus crisis and the climate crisis, stick to existing climate policy to not endanger investments and projects already made, and push the European Green Deal as an innovation and growth strategy...

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24 April 2020

Europe: NGOs call for binding environmental conditions to be linked to COVID-19 bailouts for airlines

Author: Sandra Laville, The Guardian

"Coronavirus: airlines seek €12.8bn in bailouts without environmental conditions attached", 22 April 2020

Airlines in Europe have applied for €12.8bn (£11.3bn) government support since the start of the coronavirus pandemic with no binding environmental conditions attached, according to an analysis of the sector’s bailout pleas...

By the time air travel came to a near halt in March, greenhouse gas emissions from the sector had reached record levels. But there are no binding environmental conditions being attached to any of the already agreed bailouts or future loans being sought.

The exception is in Austria, where the transport minister, Leonore Gewessler, responded to a request for public support by Austrian Airlines (part of the Lufthansa group) by saying any bailout should be linked to climate targets...

Faiza Oulahsen, from Greenpeace EU, said: Public bailouts must come with strict conditions to protect jobs and slash the aviation sector’s soaring contribution to climate breakdown.

“Any public funding should lay the foundation for a just and green transition for people and planet, with widespread investment in transport alternatives like trains. Governments must address both the economic impacts of the Covid-19 crisis and the crisis we face in climate change.”

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Author: Observatorio Latinoamericano de Conflictos Ambientales, OLCA en Radio Universidad de Chile

 “¿El extractivismo origina la covid 19 y se libra de la cuarentena?” – 18 de abril de 2020-

 …En marzo de 2019, el Programa de Naciones Unidas para el Desarrollo, publicó el informe Perspectivas del medio ambiente mundial, en el que participaron 250 científicos de 70 países. En él señalan que la contaminación del aire ocasiona entre 6 y 7 millones de muertes prematuras al año, y relaciona directamente la contaminación del aire con el cambio climático. La diversidad genética está desapareciendo y abre la puerta a la amenaza para la seguridad alimentaria, mientras que la calidad y cantidad del agua ha empeorado significativamente desde 1990. La conclusión es que se requieren medidas drásticas y urgentes, que los gobiernos conocen pero no están asumiendo. Por ejemplo, para cumplir con los acuerdos de París, se necesita que las emisiones de gases de efecto invernadero se reduzcan entre un 40% y un 70% entre 2010 y 2050. Para 2070, simplemente, deberán ser cero…Menos de un año después de publicado el informe, la covid 19 se presenta evidenciando la pertinencia de lo mismo que el informe consagra: prevenir, desprivatizar, cuidar, fortalecer los sistemas públicos. De forma drástica y urgente la naturaleza, hace lo que los gobiernos no quieren hacer, y de paso, nos da una clara señal de valoración de la vida de los miles de millones de personas que habitamos la Tierra, una evidencia visiblemente para todas y todos de que un cambio radical en nuestras vidas devuelve los pumas y los cóndores a la precordillera de los Andes…

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17 April 2020

Commentary: Human rights due diligence must remain at the core of businesses’ duties during & after COVID-19

Author: International Federation of Human Rights

“Don’t wash your hands of human rights obligations - corporate due diligence in times of COVID-19 and lessons for the future”, 17 April 2020

[T]he UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights…along with…[political and company] statements…have reaffirmed… businesses must respect human and environmental rights. At the core…is a duty to conduct human rights due diligence, whereby businesses must identify, prevent, mitigate and remedy the negative human rights impacts…of their operations…

[Amid]…COVID-19…, human rights defenders…[have] reported…“[mining] workers…[being] forced to continue working [in Brazil]”…, [Moroccan] call-center workers denounce[ing] overcrowd[ing]…, [Indian] garment workers protest[ing]…[lack of]…paid leave or to reduce workforce in factories. [M]assive layoffs and [further] abuses of labour rights [are also]…a particularly worrying trend[s].

Our times call for a strengthening of such rights rather than the opposite [and]…it is unacceptable for governments to use the crisis to chip away at [protective] measures. The time has come for governments to [create]… human rights due diligence into a set of legal obligations, while ensuring liability for corporate abuses in third countries. FIDH calls for four priorities to be addressed by different actors:

  • [R]einforce human rights due diligence practices…[and] implement a “human rights by design” approach, by developing products and services…that respect human rights by default
  • [G]overnments’ responses to the economic crisis should be used as an opportunity to support sustainable sectors, reconvert dirty industries and halt irresponsible business practices 
  • Innovation [to]…to create [an economic] model that makes international human rights law part of the rules, with efficient means of enforcement
  • International and regional cooperation…and efficiently protecting the right to health globally, as well as guaranteeing assistance to countries with less robust health care systems

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14 April 2020

COVID-19 economic recovery must be based on intl. standards for responsible business conduct & due diligence, says ECCJ

Author: European Coalition for Corporate Justice (ECCJ)

"From impossible to inevitable: corporate justice in times of COVID-19", 14 April 2020

The COVID-19 crisis has laid bare the dire need for better regulating economic globalization to protect human rights and the environment and to strengthen the sustainability of global value chains...

A truly robust and sustainable economic recovery must be based on internationally agreed standards for responsible business conduct and human rights and environmental due diligence...

1) Unsustainable global business conduct has been linked to the outbreak of pandemics... 2) EU economies are suffering the consequences of unregulated global value chains... 3) Disregard for global value chains has put vulnerable workers at extreme health and financial risk... 4) The lack of corporate accountability has put the rights to food, water and health of EU citizens at risk...

Based on the above, we can conclude that ...

a) MHRDD [mandatory Human Rights and Environmental Due Diligence] can help prevent against future pandemics by tackling their environment-related causes, and better react to them by detecting and responding to the many human rights challenges in a crisis situation...

b) Access to effective remedy, including judicial remedy, must be ensured for victims of corporate abuse in global value chains...

c) Conditions, including mHRDD, must be attached to make sure that businesses rescued with public money transition towards an economic model more respectful of human rights and the environment...

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