The instability and fear that the COVID-19 pandemic brings about is exacerbating human rights concerns around the world. While businesses face an unprecedented level of challenges amidst the ongoing pandemic, expectations are rising quickly for greater respect for human rights in business operations. How businesses respond to the crisis now will shape public attitudes for years to come.
To build forward better, it’s important now more than ever for businesses to ensure that human rights are at the core of recovery efforts. Putting people at the centre sheds light on how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting people on the ground, particularly the most vulnerable among us and what can be done about it now and in the long term.
In light of this, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Sri Lanka, through its project on ‘Business and Human Rights in Asia’ with support from the European Union, is continuing to help businesses consider and manage the human rights impacts of their operations in-line with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights – a set of guidelines for States and businesses to protect, respect and remedy human rights violations.
Marking Human Rights Day 2020, Mr. Robert Juhkam, Resident Representative of UNDP in Sri Lanka stated, “The private sector has in the past and continues to play a key role in supporting inclusive growth, poverty reduction and job creation in Sri Lanka. During these trying times, transformative action in upholding human rights will contribute to recovering better and fostering more resilient and just societies. This Human Rights Day, UNDP reaffirms its commitment in working together with the private sector to promote responsible business practices in Sri Lanka”.
As part of the project, close to 300 private sector officials, government representatives and Civil Society actors have been trained on the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights in the context of COVID-19. These trainings have encompassed identifying human rights violations in business operations, particularly in relation to climate action, and fair and equal treatment of women workers in the Free Trade Zone. Over 250 women workers in the Free Trade Zone in Sri Lanka have also been sensitized on their rights and access to remedial mechanisms.
Applying human rights considerations in business operations not only makes enterprises more resilient but also helps achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We can only achieve the 2030 Agenda if we create equal opportunities for all, address the failures exposed and exploited by COVID-19, and apply human rights standards to tackle entrenched, systematic and intergenerational inequalities, exclusion and discrimination.
This is not a time to neglect human rights, this decade of action, let’s ‘Stand Up for Human Rights’.