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COVID-19 and human rights due diligence

Governments around the world have adopted various responses to COVID-19 and have called upon individuals, communities, organizations and businesses to work together to overcome this pandemic [1, 2, 3]. The Government of Canada and the Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise (CORE) remain committed to our duty in protecting human rights throughout the COVID-19 pandemic [4], and will support operations of Canadian garment, mining, and oil and gas companies abroad in their responsibility to respect human rights.

In the past months, jurisdictions across Canada have swiftly adopted public health, economic, and social measures to better serve Canadians and Canadian businesses [5]. For example, the creation of the Canada Emergency Business Account [6], and the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit, offers assistance to sustain livelihoods of businesses and Canadians [7]. In many parts of the world, however, access to social programs and universal health coverage remains an ongoing challenge, increasing the risk and impacts of COVID-19 on communities living in vulnerable conditions extending beyond the pandemic itself [8].

In Canada, unemployment due to COVID-19 has disproportionately affected youth, women, and precarious workers [9]. Globally, garment workers – who are predominantly women – have experienced mass layoffs and furloughs without pay or severance, while some remain precluded from health and social benefits. This magnifies pre-existing inequalities, as women tend to be paid less and are more likely to experience poverty [10]. In order for businesses to respect human rights, it is therefore essential to identifying which workers and how workers may be especially vulnerable to negative impacts from COVID-19 emergency responses.

While many businesses have taken measures to ensure worker’s health and safety [11], they must also ensure that COVID-19 responses do not encroach on workers’ rights, such as freedom of movement  [12, 13]. Emergency responses should ensure that human rights are respected by adopting a human-rights based approach in alignment with internationally accepted best practices set out by the World Health Organization and the International Labour Organization.

At CORE, we encourage Canadian companies to continue to respect human rights by undertaking due diligence to identify, prevent, mitigate, and account for human rights impacts in business operations, using the United Nations Guiding Principles (UNGP) on Business and Human Rights andOECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises as frameworks for doing so.

To help Canadian companies respect human rights in their operations abroad, we have developed a list of credible resources. As the COVID-19 situation continues to evolve, we will update the list of resources on this webpage. We invite Canadian enterprises with operations abroad to send us your questions or comments in respecting human rights in your operations abroad.

CORE can be reached at: core/ocre@international.gc.ca

Resources

Please note that the resources below are not meant to be comprehensive, may be updated, and available in other languages as the situation evolves. The opinions and recommendations expressed in the following resources do not necessarily reflect the views of CORE. Please consult the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Labour, or the Human Rights Commission in the jurisdiction in which your business is operating for the most up-to-date information on COVID-19 and contextualized information.

Checklists, guidance to self-assess, and response to human rights impacts

  1. Human Rights Watch (2020) - COVID-19: A human rights checklist
  2. United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) (10 April 2020) - Human rights due diligence and COVID-19: Rapid self-assessment for business
  3. United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (25 March 2020) - Human rights at the time of COVID-19: A guidance note
  4. World Health Organization: Regional Office for Europe (2020) - Checklist to evaluate preparedness prevention and control of COVID-19 in prisons and other places of detention (available in English only)
  5. International Labour Organization (ILO) (April 16 2020) - Prevention and Mitigation of COVID-19 at Work Action Checklist
  6. International Labour Organization (ILO) - Family-friendly policies and other good workplace practices in the context of COVID-19: Key steps employers can take (April 2 2020) (available in English only)
  7. PwC. COVID-19 Navigator (available English and French only)
  8. Business and Human Rights Lawyers Network Japan (April 27 2020) - COVID-19 impacts on human rights and guidance on Japanese Business Response (available in English only)

COVID-19 and international human rights

  1. The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) (2020) - COVID-19 and its human rights dimensions.
  2. United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) (2020) -  COVID-19 Guidance (available in English only)
  3. Human Rights Watch (16 March 2020) - Human Rights Dimensions of COVID-19 Response
    • comprehensive overview of relevant international standards and human rights concerns relevant to COVID-19 responses in specific countries

Relevance to business and the workplace

  1. International Chamber of Commerce and World Health Organization (ICC-WHO) Joint Statement - An unprecedented private sector call to action to tackle COVID-19 (2020)
  2. International Labour Organization (ILO) (updates regularly) - Business and COVID-19
  3. World Health Organization - Guidance for schools, workplaces and institutions
  4. Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) - Tackling the coronavirus (COVID-19)
  5. Business and Human Rights Resource Centre - Covid-19 (Coronavirus) Outbreak
    • general portal with relevant news, reports, and other information resources specific to business and human rights in the context of COVID-19

Vulnerable populations

  1. Government of Canada (15 April 2020) - Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): Vulnerable populations and COVID-19 (available  in English and French only)
  2. UN Women (9 April 2020) -  Policy brief: The impact of COVID-19 on Women (available in English only)
  3. World Health Organization (26 March 2020) - Disability Considerations during the COVID-19 Outbreak
  4. Outright International (March 31 2020) - LBTI Caucus statement in response to the COVID-19 pandemic (available with Google Translate plugin in English only)
  5. International Organization of Migration (IOM) (updates regularly) - COVID-19 Analytical Snapshots
    • these snapshots provide an overview of the challenges various vulnerable migrants experience (e.g. women, children) and why
    • this can be used in your human rights impact assessment or when ensuring due diligence when devising COVID-19 responses

References

  1. International Labour Organization Country Policy Responses
  2. The International Chamber of Commerce and World Health Organization (ICC-WHO) Joint Statement: An unprecedented private sector call to action to tackle COVID-19
  3. United Nations COVID-19 Response
  4. Government of Canada takes action on COVID-19
  5. News release: Government introduces COVID-19 emergency response act, No. 2 to help businesses keep Canadians in their jobs
  6. Canada’s COVID-19 economic response plan
  7. Canada emergency response benefit
  8. United Nations Social Affairs - Everyone included: The Social Impact of COVID-19.
  9. Statistics Canada - Labour Force Survey - March 2020
  10. Who will bail out the workers that make our clothes? Worker Rights Consortium White Paper
  11. Minderoo Foundation - Protecting people in a pandemic: Urgent collaboration is needed to protect vulnerable workers and prevent exploitation
  12. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
  13. Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
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