The pandemic of COVID-19 has had a serious negative impact on human rights. In addition to governmental measures, business are also expected to consider and explore ways to mitigate the negative impact on human rights.
When Japanese companies, governments, and other stakeholders consider their responses, it is useful to learn from the information and lessons in the United States and Europe, where the spread of COVID-19 and the impact on business activities as a consequence have occurred earlier than in Japan. On the other hand, it is also necessary to consider specific issues and challenges in the context of Japan.
Therefore, Japanese lawyers affiliated with Business and Human Rights Lawyers Network Japan have established "Japan COVID-19 & BHR Research Project" and have published a Research Report "COVID-19 Impacts on Human Rights and Guidance on Japanese Business Response" by collecting information inside and outside Japan. We have published an English summary of the Report in addition to the original full version in Japanese.
Please note that the report complied the information at the time of publication, and the revisions will be made in light of the future situation changes and the progress of initiatives. It would be appreciated if you can kindly provide us with your feedback and information so that we can update the report properly.
Business and Human Rights Lawyers Network Japan
Emi OMURA, Akiko SATO, and Daisuke TAKAHASHI
C/O Research Center for Sustainable Peace (RCSP),
The University of Tokyo
3-8-1 Komaba, Meguro-ku, Tokyo, 153-8902, JAPAN
In preparing this report, Mr. Ryusuke Tanaka (Program Officer, ILO Office for Japan), Ms. Stephanie Venuti (Policy Advisor, OECD Centre on Responsible Business Conduct), and Mr. Livio Sarandrea (Global Advisor for Business and Human Rights, UNDP Asia and Pacific Regional Office) gave us useful information regarding the responses to COVID-19 by foreign countries and international organizations. We are deeply grateful to their supports. All possible errors in this report are, however, attributable to the authors. The statements in this report are not intended to represent the opinions of the organization to which the authors belong or those of relevant organizations.
This report summarizes the impacts and responses in the following six areas of particular concern.
The stagnation of business activities caused by the COVID-19 pandemic does not only affect workers directly employed by the enterprises, through layoff and furlough. The effects of cancellation of orders and delays in payments also have a negative impact on supplier companies and their workers in domestic and overseas supply chains.
Chapter 2: Migrant Workers
While migrant workers contribute to the economic development of destination countries worldwide, they and their families have vulnerabilities stemming from foreign nationality, language barrier and cultural differences, especially in accessing social security and healthcare system. These vulnerabilities are dramatically highlighted by the multifaceted economic and social impacts and limitations associated with the social response to coronavirus. Without adequate protection, they could immediately fall into poverty and are deprived of their human rights.
Chapter 3: Non-regular Employment, Gig Workers, and Informal Workers
The rate of non-regular workers in Japan was approximately 38% in 2019, with women accounting for two-thirds of this rate. The number of people who work self-employed as their own main business and are not employed by others (such as individual contractors, freelances, cloud workers, and home occupation) is amounting to about 1,200,000.
Chapter 4: Health Care Workers
Healthcare professionals are engaged in their duties on a daily basis while combating the risk of new coronavirus infection. There are problems such as lack of medical materials such as masks, gowns and gloves, labor shortages, long working hours, impacts on mental health, and discrimination and prejudice against healthcare professionals. In terms of women's share of healthcare professionals, the new coronavirus has a disparate impact on men and women.
Chapter 5: Children, Older Persons, Women, Persons with Disabilities, Foreigners, etc.
The pandemic of COVID-19 may have a particularly serious impact on socially vulnerable groups, such as children, elderly people, women, persons with disabilities, and foreigners, due to the unequal treatment in existing social structures. Human rights issues that existed before the COVID-19 pandemic were manifested through the pandemic in the form of negative impacts on the human rights of vulnerable people.
Chapter 6: Privacy
With the aim of preventing the spread of coronavirus infection, there is a rapidly expanding trend toward the use of digital technology such as mobile apps by the governments, in cooperation with businesses, to monitor and track the location of infected patients, and it is becoming a challenge how to balance such measures with privacy concerns.
"Business and Human Rights"
to Be Challenged
In the context of unprecedented COVID-19 crises for both business activities and human rights, it has been challenged how states can fulfill their duty to protect human rights and fulfill their responsibilities to respect human rights under the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (the "Guiding Principles")
The Guiding Principles set out three pillars: (1) state duty to protect human rights; (2) corporate responsibility to respect human rights; and (3) ensuring access to remedies for victims of human rights abuses. Under the framework of this Guiding Principles, companies are also expected to conduct human rights due diligence (HRDD) to evaluate and address the negative impacts of their business activities on human rights through their supply chains in order to fulfill their responsibility to respect human rights. The elements of the Guiding Principles are also incorporated into OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and in ILO Tripartite Declaration of Principles concerning Multinational Enterprises and Social Policy (MNE Declaration).
In the face of serious damage to corporate activities due to the spread of COVID-19, governments are required to take measures to maintain the economic activities of corporations and the livelihoods and employment of citizens. Some measures have already been implemented by governments, including the Government of Japan. On the other hand, as mentioned above, there are concerns that the negative impact on human rights will increase as a result of changes in corporate activities, and companies are expected to consider and explore ways to mitigate the negative impact on human rights as much as possible.
The COVID-19 crisis has greatly changed the way people, including businesspersons, think and behave. This mindset change also provides opportunities for business to be transformed into truly sustainable ones adding values and fulfilling responsibilities to the society.
In the webinar organized by BHR Lawyers, we will launch our report. Prof. Shinichi Ago will also give a speech on roles of International Labor Standards in the COVID-19 crisis.