Human rights guidance & tools for companies during COVID-19

As the scale of COVID-19's impact on people, economy and planet continues to emerge, "the relevance of the values and standards of the UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights grows exponentially". Thorough human rights action and due diligence are key to responsible business conduct both in the immediate and in the wake of the crisis.

Please find below a selection of COVID-19 human rights guidance & tools for companies, general or issue-specific, and developed by international organisations, NGOs, think tanks, companies & others.

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13 May 2020

Tool provides guidance to companies on protecting the right to health in accordance with human rights due diligence standards

Author: Ana Dangova Hug, Inter Partes

"Tool on (Children's) Right to Health and Businesses: Unpacking the Human Rights Due Diligence Standard", May 2020

…[T]he Tool... provides guidance to help companies better understand what does it entail to work in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the Children’s Rights and Business Principles. To go more deeply in this issue… the right of adults and children to health [has been chosen] as a cornerstone of the analysis, as it is a salient human rights issue for most of the companies, especially now in the context of the COVID-19 outbreak…

…[T]his Tool is intended to be used by all companies, regardless where they operate, by the civil society, and if necessary, by governments. Also, the Tool contains two short sections on the national legislation related to the right of adult and children to health as a background information on the topic for international companies.

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12 May 2020

New guide provides companies with practical approaches to understanding human rights risks related to COVID-19 & making rights-respecting business decisions

Author: Shift

"Making Rights-Respecting Business Decisions in a COVID-19 World", May 2020

This resource aims to provide companies with a set of practical and immediately applicable approaches to better understand rising human rights risks related to the pandemic and how to make rights-respecting business decisions in response.

Everywhere, human rights are at risk from the impacts of COVID-19. People around the world fear for their life and health, livelihoods, civil liberties and privacy, to name just a few issues. At the same time, many businesses are facing existential threats, as they seek to survive or adapt to a new and unprecedented reality. As they make painful decisions, companies need to bring precision thinking to how their choices will impact the lives of people that work for, depend on, or are otherwise connected to their business...

Five practical approaches...

1. Apply the lens of vulnerability to prioritize action...

2. Involve relevant stakeholders in critical decision-making processes...

3. Use leverage with governments on policy responses...

4. Communicating clearly about your actions...

5. Have honest discussions about risks that are baked into the business model...

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5 May 2020

Anti-Slavery Intl. assesses COVID-19 impacts on people in or vulnerable to modern slavery; includes guidance for policymakers, donors & business

Author: Anti-Slavery International

"Leaving no-one behind", April 2020

Covid-19 has the potential to negatively affect everyone, but it does not affect everyone equally...

Poor people who are enslaved or vulnerable to slavery are amongst the most marginalised individuals and communities in the world. The... disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic are compounding the risks they face.

At the same time, traffickers and exploitative employers have the potential to act with impunity in a context where change is rapid and governments may be struggling...

With the effects on the global economy, the Covid-19 crisis is leading to widespread unemployment, and means that major sections of the global population are at greater risk of exploitation...

Any response to Covid-19, therefore, must be designed to specifically reach and benefit the 40 million people in slavery, in addition to the increased numbers of people now vulnerable to slavery...

Immediate measures: Support during and after Covid-19 that includes and protects people in, and vulnerable to, slavery...

Long-term measures: Build resilience and prevent an increase in slavery...

Business responsibility: ensure that buyer-supplier relationships enable the respect of workers’ rights, including that pricing covers full production costs such as the living wage and benefits to all workers. Governments must introduce mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence laws to hold companies responsible for preventing abuses within their supply chains...

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1 May 2020

Minderoo Foundation examines key risks COVID-19 presents for migrant & other vulnerable workers, & how business & govt. can mitigate risks

Author: Minderoo Foundation - Walk Free Initiative

“Protecting people in a pandemic: Urgent collaboration is needed to protect vulnerable workers and prevent exploitation”, April 2020

This publication examines key risks that COVID-19 presents for migrant and other vulnerable workers…, provid[ing] practical guidance and current examples of measures that business and government can take to mitigate those risks. The report is informed by a rapid assessment of immediate COVID-related risks, responses, and recommendations identified by civil society, international organisations, business and industry groups, and worker rights’ networks.

Millions of vulnerable workers do not have access to COVID-19 testing, health care, sick leave or the physical or financial ability to isolate. Many have lost jobs and are stranded overseas, unable to support themselves or return home due to lockdowns and travel restrictions. The combination of these health, safety and economic risks creates the perfect storm for exploitation, human trafficking and modern slavery to flourish.

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27 April 2020

Japan: Business and Human Rights Lawyers Network Japan publishes guidelines on mitigating COVID-19 impact on suppliers & workers

Author: Business and Human Rights Lawyers Network Japan

"COVID-19 Impacts on Human Rights and Guidance on Japanese Business Response", 27 April 2020

...[T]his chapter presents following five key points for Japanese companies to mitigate COVID-19 impacts on domestic and overseas suppliers and their workers and to implement responsible corporate conduct.

(1) Evaluate and disclose COVID-19 impacts, including its impact on workers in the supply chain...

(2) Particularly consider the impact on vulnerable stakeholders such as migrant workers...

(3) Explore ways to mitigate impacts while communicating with suppliers and workers as much as possible...

(4) Respond appropriately to issues and complaints raised by workers and other stakeholders through supply chains...

(5) Investors can provide a clear message to Japanese companies on how to respond through supply chains...

...In Japan, unfortunately, dismissal of technical intern trainees, non-payment of leave allowances, and cancellation of job offers for international students have been reported. Given that their visa status restricts their free choice of jobs, there is an increasing concern that the number of workers who lose their jobs and fall into poverty will rise further...

...The multifaceted economic and social impacts and limitations associated with responding to coronavirus have left many non-regular workers in vulnerable situation, resulting in impoverishment and infringement of their rights unless adequate protection being provided. Unfortunately in Japan, unemployment of dispatched workers, poverty of single mothers and women working in entertainment sector, and homelessness of day laborers and online cafe refugees have been reported...

...In terms of women's share of healthcare professionals, the new coronavirus has a disparate impact on men and women...

...In Japan, where the declining birthrate and the aging population are progressing and the shortage of labour in the nursing care service sector is an issue, the limitation of nursing care services significantly affects older persons and their families...

In Japan, the Government has also requested business to provide information that contributes to the countermeasures against coronavirus clusters...The government also announced that it would collaborate with the private sectors to provide an app for smartphones that warns people who may have come into close contact with patients with COVID-19...

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+ 日本語 - Hide

Author: Business and Human Rights Lawyers Network Japan


...本章では,このような国内での取組をふまえつつも,日本企業が,国内外の サプライヤー及びその労働者への影響を緩和し,責任ある企業行動を実践するための以下 の5つの留意点・工夫を提示する。

① 新型コロナウイルス感染拡大の影響を,自社のサプライチェーンの労働者への影響を含めて,評価し,開示する...

② 移民労働者など脆弱な立場に置かれている立場のステークホルダーへの影響を特に考慮する... 

③ サプライヤーや労働者と可能限りコミュニケーションを図りながら影響緩和のための方法を模索する...

④ サプライチェーンを通じて労働者などのステークホルダーからの問題提起・苦情に適切に対応する...

⑤ 投資家において,日本企業に対し,サプライチェーンを通じた対応に関して,明確なメッセージを出す...

...日本でも,技能実習生の解雇や休業手当の不支給,留学生の内定取消とい った事態が報告されている。もともとビザの要件として自由な就業に制限があり,仕事を失 うと同時に困窮状態に陥る労働者がさらに増加する可能性が懸念される。

...非標準的雇用労働者については,新型コロナウイルスへの対応に伴う経済社会への多方 面の影響・制限によって一層その脆弱性が浮き彫りになり,適切な保護がなければ直ちに貧 困に陥り,その権利が侵害されてしまう状態となっている。国内では,派遣労働者の失業, シングルマザーや接待業の女性の困窮,日雇いネットカフェ難民の住居喪失などが報告されている。

...医療従事者に占める女性の割 合からすれば,新型コロナウイルスは男性と女性で不均衡な影響を与える。

...下記のような脆弱な立場に置かれる人々は,労働者として直接企業活動による影響を受 けるにとどまらず,企業活動に必ずしも直接起因しない,むしろ社会構造による人権課題にも同時に直面しており,これらは相互に関連する。国内では,休校や在宅勤務により自 宅で過ごす時間が長くなったことにより,子ども・女性・高齢者らへの虐待リスクが増加し,また子どもの世話や介護について女性の負担が増えている。少子高齢化が進み,介護 の担い手不足が課題である日本において,介護サービスの制限が高齢者とその家族に及ぼす影響は深刻である。また,障がいのある労働者に対する合理的配慮も課題が多い。

...日本でも,政府が,民間事業者等に対して,新型コロナウイルスのクラスター対策に資する 情報提供に関して協力を要請している。また,政府は,民間と協力して,新型コロナウイルス感染者と濃厚接触した可能性がある人に警告するスマートフォン向けアプリを提供することを発表した...

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24 April 2020

Novartis publishes COVID-19 good practice guidance for suppliers

Author: Novartis International AG

'Novartis COVID-19 Good Practice Guidance for Third Parties'

...We must continue to ensure an uninterrupted supply of essential medicines to patients, which requires that any disruption to our supply chains be avoided or minimized. At the same time, we have a responsibility to ensure that the production of Novartis medicines does not cause or contribute to adverse impacts on the health and safety, labor rights or other human rights of Novartis associates or workers in our supply chains as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In order to achieve both these objectives to the greatest extent possible... we are providing this Guidance to suppliers on recommended good practices during the... pandemic...

Physical Distancing [...]

Personal Hygiene [...]

Compliance with Novartis Third Party Code [...]

Respect for Labor Rights

- The employers of 3rd party service providers, who are usually required to work onsite at a Novartis location (i.e. employees of external service providers... and contractors...) should provide the same or similar support that is available to Novartis associates...

- Respect workers’ right to paid sick leave – be flexible in requiring proof of sickness...

- Respect workers’ right to reasonable working hours...

Respect for Health and Safety [...]

Dormitories and Worksite Accommodation [...]

Migrant Workers

- Take special attention to respect the labor rights and health and safety of workers who come from outside the country or region of the worksite, and who may be especially vulnerable due to lack of knowledge of local language or laws...

- Do not return migrant workers who have been admitted on a permanent basis, or their family members, to their home countries or regions solely on the basis that the worker is unable to fulfill work functions due to illness (including COVID-19)...

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24 April 2020

OECD briefing on building responsible business conduct approach into govt. & business responses to COVID-19

Author: OECD Centre for Responsible Business Conduct

'COVID-19 and Responsible Business Conduct', 16 April 2020

...Taking an “RBC [responsible business conduct] approach”, based on the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, and using risk-based due diligence... as described in the OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Business Conduct, would bring short and long-term benefits. In particular, it would enhance companies’ capacity to build and increase resilience to better deal with current and future supply chain disruptions, and enhance their ability to access private and public finance. An RBC approach in the design and implementation of government measures to support the global economic recovery would also help ensure a fairer and more inclusive distribution of benefits...

Company RBC approaches could include the following measures:

- Social dialogue and stakeholder engagement...

Environmental, health and safety management...

- Supply chain management that addresses vulnerabilities in the supply chain...

Government RBC approaches could entail the following strategies:

- Conditioning emergency or relief funds to compliance with RBC standards...;

- Using emergency and relief programmes to support companies in creating long-term economic, social and environmental value;

- Using RBC standards as a framework for identifying the environmental, social and governance risks and vulnerabilities in the supply chains...;

- Leveraging public procurement...;

- Enabling dispute resolution and access to remedy in the event that companies or government responses fail to meet RBC standards linked to recovery measures.

[Click below for a flyer or download the full note including "[c]oncrete steps [for] companies".]

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22 April 2020

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

Author: Ron Popper, Global Business Initiative for Human Rights

“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

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16 April 2020

IHRB guidance urges businesses to find original solutions & respect human rights standards when responding to COVID-19

Author: Institute for Human Rights and Business (IHRB)

“Respecting human rights in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic: Examining companies’ responsibilities for workers an affected communities”, 16 April 2020

The spread of [COVID-19]…has...been relentless and its impacts exponential. The de facto shutdown of businesses large and small in many countries has crippled the global economy, affecting primary producers in Latin America and Africa, and manufacturing supply chains in Asia.

Equity markets have tumbled, trade has collapsed, planes are grounded…, factories have closed [and]…tourism has declined. [C]ompanies …are now faced with a range of unprecedented challenges that will require clarity of thinking..., the need to think outside the box, commitment to adhere to international standards and norms, and a concerted effort of collective action.

Companies...should use their leverage to safeguard the rights of those who work for their suppliers, partners, and associates. Beyond that, companies have responsibilities to…how the products they make and services they offer can adapt to meet critical urgent and future needs, support relief efforts, contribute to research, and...augment public prevent the recurrence of such a crisis…

This paper is divided into four parts. Part I provides an overview of the human rights impacts of the pandemic. Part II outlines the importance of the corporate responsibility to respect human rights in the current context. Part III identifies where change is needed and where good practices are being implemented. It concludes with a series of recommendations to businesses. Part IV looks ahead, to the extent that is possible, and reflects on the longer-term implications. Three appendices show instructive examples from the past.

[Follow links to access the full paper]

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