As companies respond to the unprecedented challenges presented by the global COVID-19 pandemic, Verité stands ready to assist corporate leaders and supply chain managers in their efforts to protect workers and safeguard human rights. A great deal of guidance for companies has already been published by corporate social responsibility and human rights organizations, and new resources are being developed and circulated every day.
Verité will be publishing a series of memos to provide information on challenges posed by COVID-19 in certain sectors and to certain worker populations, practical guidance on labor rights issues, and links to useful resources produced by our peers.
As we at Verité take stock of the disease’s many implications for employers and supply chain actors, we particularly want to emphasize the importance of the following high-level principles that companies should promote in their own operations and supply chains:
Maintain healthy workplaces
- Employers must provide paid sick leave to all categories of workers, including newly-hired and temporary workers. At a minimum, companies must adhere to relevant legal guidance. Where the law is silent or inadequate, at least two weeks of paid sick leave should be provided (or the part-time equivalent) for workers exhibiting symptoms.
- Each company has a duty to tell workers who are symptomatic or know they have been exposed to COVID-19 to stay home until the period of contagion has passed (following guidance from public health officials). Workers must be symptom-free and no longer contagious before returning to work.
- Workers must be provided with sufficient Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and sanitation supplies and be properly trained on their use to protect them against infection.
- Workplaces, worker accommodations, and shift schedules should be actively managed to reduce social contact and facilitate social distancing.
- Companies should ensure that facilities are regularly and thoroughly cleaned, and deep cleaned each time a sick or contagious person is known to have been on the premises.
- Companies should consider provision of mental health and bereavement support.
Ensure that work is voluntary
- Employers in essential industries are still bound by legal prohibitions against forced labor.
- Workers should never be pressured to work if not healthy or before fully recovered from illness.
- Hazard pay or other incentives should be used to encourage voluntary work.
- Industries seeing surges in demand should employ ethical recruitment of new workers and ensure there is no forced overtime.
- When hiring new workers, either due to increases in demand or resumption of activities, ensure that labor brokers are adequately screened and monitored, including checking to ensure that labor brokers are registered and do not have records of illegal or unethical behavior, carrying out interviews with labor brokers, and monitoring the actions of labor brokers through inspections, worker interviews, and grievance mechanisms.
Safeguard the employment relationship
- During business closures or slowdowns, the best practice is to continue paying wages with no change in workers’ employment status, either through company or government bankrolling.
- If maintaining payrolls is not feasible, furloughs should be prioritized over layoffs, and every effort should be made to repay wages lost during furloughs after the business resumes operation.
- Workers caring for children or other family members as a result of the pandemic should be provided flexible working arrangements and/or family care leave to enable them to continue to remain employed until they can resume their normal roles.
- Laid off workers should be given severance and prioritized for rehiring at unchanged wage and benefit levels once businesses reopen.
Protect and facilitate workers’ freedom of association
- Grievance mechanisms must be made available via safe remote communications channels such as hotlines or online discussion boards.
- Workers must have safe and anonymous ways to report information on workplace risks and concerns related to the COVID-19 crisis, and companies must ensure that there are no reprisals against workers reporting risks or engaged in organizing or other forms of workplace activism.
- Companies must actively share information with workers about new labor regulations being developed in response to the crisis.
- Where unions or other worker organizations exist, management should collaborate with worker representatives to address and manage negative impacts of the pandemic on the workforce and the company.
Facilitate good practices by suppliers
- Companies should honor their existing contracts with suppliers, and where possible, extend longer-term contracts to shore up supplier stability.
- Companies can also consider providing advance payments or temporary pandemic premiums to contractors to facilitate their payment of wages and provision of paid sick leave or emergency pay to workers.
- Companies should emphasize to suppliers the critical importance of safeguarding workers’ human rights during the pandemic by continuing to abide by local laws and company codes of conduct, and by being aware of workers’ heightened vulnerability as a result of the crisis.
- Companies should maintain, and if possible, intensify, due diligence monitoring for human rights violations within their supply chain, including the use of remote reporting by workers or other creative means given COVID-19 safety requirements.
Please send questions and topics for future articles related to COVID-19 in supply chains to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The photo included in this article is used solely to illustrate the locations and situations in which risk of forced or child labor is being discussed. The people shown in the photo(s) do not represent any specific person or group of people noted in the text.
Photo credit: Daniel Ferrer Paez/shutterstock.com.