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

“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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