How can Business Apply a Human Rights Lens to the COVID-19 Response and Recovery?

COVID-19 turned people’s lives upside down around the globe. The economic challenges raised by the pandemic are unprecedented. But strong commitment shows in the time of crisis: many companies take concrete steps to prevent and address negative impacts of their operations on society and the environment as they are preparing for the “new normal”. UNDP’s C19 Rapid Self-Assessment tool helps them consider and manage the human rights impacts of their operations through the crisis and recovery.

People, especially vulnerable and marginalized populations are still affected by job loss, travel restrictions, the lack of personal protective equipment, insufficient access to health care, unsafe living environment and isolation. Businesses need to find ways to become part of the solution instead of contributing to the problem. More and more companies understand that demonstrating respect for human rights, especially amid harsh economic circumstances, is a strong reflection on their core values, and that preventing and addressing adverse human rights impacts is key to maintaining trust with clients, consumers, employees, shareholders and communities.

B+HR Asia has designed a simple and accessible tool, ‘Human Rights Due Diligence and COVID-19: Rapid Self-Assessment for Business (C19 Rapid Self-Assessment)’, listing 48 actions grouped in 6 thematic areas to help businesses consider and manage the human rights impacts of their operations.

In the following article we highlight some of the actions businesses can take to prevent and address negative impacts of their operations.

Occupational Health & Safety

Provide women with proper safety equipment tailored to their needs (for example, protective gear in women’s sizes) and ensure access to hygiene products and gender-sensitive facilities

Allow employees to contact family and friends in native towns/cities and ensure workers are not otherwise isolated from their support network

Ensure that work premises and any employee housing facilities provided by the company allow for workers to practice social distancing

Labour Rights

Prepare a plan to ensure that workers are not dismissed. If workers must be dismissed, ensure that they are not dismissed without compensation and without procedural safeguards, particularly daily wage workers

Pay employees during periods while they are ill and unable to go to work, including during self-quarantine periods

Recognize women as unpaid caregivers and accommodate their needs with flexible work or part-time work when ramping up production

Environmental & Community Impacts

Take precautionary measures to ensure that the health of consumers or the general public is not further endangered by business operations

Ensure all environmental protocols are followed in the discharge of toxic and hazardous materials; communicate to workers that proper disposal remains a priority even in times of crisis

Conduct post-crisis assessment on how communities have been impacted by redundancies and take mitigating or remedial action as required

Safeguarding Privacy

Develop policies to ensure that names and contact information of workers found to have been infected by COVID-19 are not revealed to the workforce or the public at large

Train or provide refresher trainings of private security staff on respect for human rights in standard operating procedures, especially for those staff involved in COVID-19 screening procedures

Preventing Stigma & Discrimination

Establish procedures to counter the spread of false or misleading information so as to prevent fear and prejudice towards marginalized groups in the workforce

Ensure that employees are aware of responsible use of social media, to counter the spread of misinformation, fear and prejudice in the workplace

Corporate Policy & Management Considerations

Make a public commitment to respect human rights on corporate website or in communication materials

Communicate regularly and promote transparency around corporate decisions and information related to COVID-19 to employees

Retain contracts with suppliers, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises whenever possible

The tool is one of the first outputs of the recently launched action Enabling Sustainable Economic Growth through the Protect, Respect and Remedy Framework funded by the European Union with € 5.5 million and was created in collaboration with the Promoting Responsible Business Practices through Regional Partnerships project funded by the Government of Sweden.

While this assessment provides initial guidance, UNDP recommends that all companies consider further steps towards a fully-fledged human rights impact assessment, in response to COVID-19’s immediate and long-term effects on human rights in their operations and supply chains. B+HR Asia is available for further guidance and tools to provide support for businesses.

B+HR Asia works on promoting long-term solutions and facilitating discussion between government, private sector, civil society organizations and national human rights institutes in the region to help build back better after the pandemic.

Working for a Sustainable Planet without Poverty