Building a rights-based response to Covid-19


May 14, 2020

Basma Humadi, basma@icar.ngo


Accountability Organizations Call on Governments, Businesses, and Investors to Respond to Covid-19 Environmental and Human Rights Risks

WASHINGTON, D.C.International Corporate Accountability Roundtable (ICAR), along with over 30 partner organizations, released joint statements today calling on governments, businesses, and investors to respond to Covid-19 related challenges consistent with their environmental and human rights obligations and responsibilities.

“In far too many governments and far too many businesses, the focus has been meeting the wants of the already protected rather than the needs of the most vulnerable,” said ICAR Executive Director, Alison Friedman. “That has to change—not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s the only way to build back sustainably. The strength of our societies, our public health response, and our economic recovery depends on meaningful protection for workers, marginalized groups, and our environment.”

As demonstrated by the list of signatories, these statements reflect broad consensus around concrete steps that can be taken today by governments, businesses, and the investor community to uphold their obligations and responsibilities laid out in international frameworks and protect those most affected by this crisis.

The statement to governments calls on them to meet their human rights obligations during Covid-19, including protecting against business-related human rights abuses. To this end, governments must ensure that stimulus packages prioritize those most at risk and include clear and enforceable conditions to prevent providing blank checks to industry. Governments must take steps to protect the rights of workers (including those in supply chains); prohibit business behavior that negatively impacts consumers, such as corporate profiteering and price gouging; and provide additional protections for human rights defenders and marginalized groups. Governmental response plans should be publicly disclosed and include provisions for companies to increase the transparency of their own responses. Finally, governments should ensure remedies are available where human rights harms have occurred, and should continue to push businesses to conduct human rights and environmental due diligence, especially regarding Covid-19 related risks.

The statement to the business community outlines how companies can uphold their human rights responsibilities during this time. This includes offering paid leave for employees, providing employees with PPE and safe operating procedures, and amending work schedules to comply with social distancing guidelines. Companies should also mitigate the economic impact of the virus by avoiding major layoffs and loss of benefits, prioritizing financial decisions that safeguard employee living standards, and providing remedy for those that have been negatively impacted by business practices relating to Covid-19. Additionally, companies should honor collective bargaining agreements and relationships with unions, maintain contracts with suppliers, and refrain from profiteering behavior. Finally, corporations should enhance human rights and environmental due diligence and look out for human rights defenders and groups made even more vulnerable by the current situation, including Indigenous Peoples.

The statement to the investor community urges investors to call upon businesses to craft their Covid-19 response plans with the aforementioned goals in mind, and special consideration for employee health, safety, and economic security. To this end, investors should prioritize utilizing their leverage towards companies that need to improve their Covid-19 response, ensuring that all relevant stakeholders are consulted in the creation of response plans. They should also call for increased corporate disclosures, actively participate in virtual Annual General Meetings, and promote financial responsibility, including moratoriums on executive pay raises, stock buybacks, and the payment of dividends, for the duration of the pandemic. Investors should speak out publicly against corporations and governments whose responses are falling short, while paying attention to vulnerable communities and human rights defenders and advocating for sustainable economic recovery plans.

While the current situation requires immediate action, the statements also drive home the need for forward looking plans to transition to a more just economy and social order, guided by the principles of participation, human and environmental rights, and democratic governance. This involves, among other things, promoting forms of business governance that center on workers and communities, committing to a social purpose that considers the wellbeing of all stakeholders and maximizes social good, and adhering to international human rights principles. Governments, businesses, and investors each have a role to play in realizing this transition. Going back to business as usual after Covid-19 is not an option.


About ICAR

The International Corporate Accountability Roundtable (ICAR) harnesses the collective power of progressive organizations to push governments to create and enforce rules over corporations that promote human rights and reduce inequality.

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