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Ending Corporate Impunity Is at the Heart of a Sustainable Post-Pandemic Global Recovery

Upcoming negotiations for a UN Binding Treaty on Business and Human Rights provide a critical opportunity for governments and business to demonstrate their commitment to responsible corporate conduct.

To ensure that the global economy is not only resilient but also conducive to social progress, governments must restore the social contract by rebuilding trust in democracy and a fair and equitable economy.(Photo: Scott Lewis/Flickr/cc)

To ensure that the global economy is not only resilient but also conducive to social progress, governments must restore the social contract by rebuilding trust in democracy and a fair and equitable economy.(Photo: Scott Lewis/Flickr/cc)

he Covid-19 pandemic has once again exposed the fragility of global supply chains and business models built on non-standard forms of employment and informality. Following the global drop in demand as a result of the pandemic, many companies resorted to abruptly ending the procurement of goods and services and even to defaulting on prior commitments made—with the consequence of a disastrous impact for workers in global supply chains.

Simultaneously, others designated as key workers in the crisis, including seafarers and workers in packing and distribution centers, continue to work tirelessly to keep global supply chains afloat at huge personal risk of exposure and often without adequate personal protective equipment.

Not for the first time, workers have learned the hard way that our global economy is not governed by the rule of law. It is therefore unsurprising that a recent Global Poll conducted by the International Trade Union Confederation found that almost three-quarters (71 percent) of people believe that their country’s economic system favors the wealthy. Sixty-one percent of people surveyed said that they would trust governments more if they held companies to account for how they treat workers and the environment. And a whopping 66 percent said they want their governments to adopt new rules for multinationals to end abuse through their supply chains.

To ensure that the global economy is not only resilient but also conducive to social progress, governments must restore the social contract by rebuilding trust in democracy and a fair and equitable economy. This has to start with the regulation of highly exploitative global supply chains—the heartbeat of our current trading system. Indications are that governments and business are starting to listen.

The European Commission, for example, has conceded that voluntary measures are insufficient to change the way businesses manage their human rights and environmental impacts. Large multinational enterprises are now also openly calling for human rights due diligence (HRDD) legislation.

The next round of negotiations for a UN Binding Treaty on Business and Human Rights later this month provides a critical opportunity for governments and business to finally demonstrate their expressed commitment to responsible business conduct.

71% of people around the world believe that their country’s economic system favors the wealthy- International Trade Union Confederation poll conducted in 16 countries, February-March 2020

Ruwan Subasinghe

Ruwan Subasinghe is Legal Advisor to the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF). Twitter: @RuwanSubasinghe.

Makbule Sahan

Makbule Sahan is the head of the International Trade Union Confederation’s Legal Department. Twitter: @MakbuleSahan.

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