COVID-19 and Human Rights: Protecting the Most Vulnerable

The COVID-19 crisis is testing the world’s humanity and resilience at a time that is already marked by acute inequality. With the socioeconomic impacts of the pandemic hitting vulnerable and marginalized groups particularly hard, business can step up to support communities in need.

“Our response to this epidemic must encompass — and in fact, focus on — those whom society often neglects or relegates to a lesser status. Otherwise, it will fail. The health of every person is linked to the health of the most marginalized members of the community,” the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, urged in mid-March.

Without sufficient resources to protect themselves from health risks, access healthcare or pay for essential goods, many will find themselves in precarious situations. With the alarming loss of jobs across the world, the number of people in such situations will inevitably be on the rise.

This Academy session spotlights actions companies can take to support human rights and join in the fight against COVID-19. Through best practice examples and insights from human rights experts, session attendees will learn how business can play a key role and stand up for the most vulnerable and marginalized both during this pandemic and beyond.

Speakers Include:
- Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
- H.E. Anisul Huq, Minister for Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs, People’s Republic of Bangladesh
- Roberto Marques, Executive Chairman of the Board and CEO, Natura &Co

What did we learn?

  • The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted shortcomings in our societies, which we knew were there, but have failed to address and which have now exacerbated. Although the virus does not discriminate, its impacts do and in all regions of the world those in vulnerable situations are being impacted the most.
  • The greatest assets a country has is its people, thus States and companies alike must adhere to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights to protect this human capital even in times of economic hardship and during this public health crisis.
  • Public-private partnerships are crucial in the endeavor to repurpose assets, skills and products. Pivoting productions towards essential items such as soap and hand sanitizers, and the equitable distribution of such products is critical.
  • There is an appeal for multinational corporations to avoid order cancellations when at all possible in order to limit the hardship of workers in their supply chains.
  • The SDGs should remain our roadmap as we are not on track and challenges on decent work, climate, inequality and poverty remain. These challenges will still need political will and resources to overcome them.
  • Multilateralism is as important as ever. A truly global response based on global cooperation and solidarity is needed to overcome this global crisis. We need to internationalize national responses. This crisis affects us all and we must act collectively to address it and to recover better.
  • Protecting the most vulnerable in the pandemic is closely linked to protecting those vulnerable to climate change. We can take this time to understand and put in place concrete actions to mitigate the harms of the climate crisis to reduce any further loss of life and livelihoods.
  • Those businesses who wish to get ahead need to prioritise stakeholders over shareholders - this will be a key step change after COVID-19.
  • Protecting the rights of women and girls is essential. Women and girls have a disproportionate burden of care and are at greater risk of domestic violence, unemployment and financial insecurity. Greater attention needs to be given to providing them with safe accommodation, alternative employment, access to WASH and social protection.

Recommended Resources:

Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights

UN's 2020 Report: COVID-19 and Human Rights | We are all in this together

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