Standing with vulnerable workers – COVID-19 Update
For the past week the United States and other countries have seen widespread protests against injustice, in many cases evoking Martin Luther King’s quote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” This week ELEVATE stands with vulnerable and marginalized peoples and against the injustices they disproportionally face.
It is unfortunate that it takes tragic events to wake up much of society – revealing the very real inequalities facing the world’s most vulnerable and often marginalized people. The global workers in supply chains who make the clothes we wear, the food we eat and the smartphone or computer device you are reading this on continue to experience a variety of challenges. It was in 1970s that shareholder advocacy took root, as activists demanded the withdrawal of General Motors from South Africa’s apartheid state. In the 1990s, apparel and footwear companies were called out for slave labor in California, child labor in Pakistan, and forced labor in Saipan. In 2013, the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory complex in Bangladesh killed over 1,100 people – workers lacking living wages, were crammed into tight working spaces making garments for Western consumers.
This past week, the pain and heartbreak we are collectively seeing and feeling around the world reminds us that systems of power – from investors, to governments, to our workplaces – continue to fall short in ensuring all people are granted their universal human rights including the right to live, and to live with dignity. The path to reconciliation is further complicated by the global Covid-19 pandemic which has ravaged many countries and economies, leaving thousands dead and millions sick. Most of these people, such as the often unseen and unprotected migrant workers globally, are the world’s most vulnerable.
For the past several months the pandemic has disproportionally affected workers deemed, “essential”. Take Singapore for example. At the onset of the pandemic, the city state was believed to be a coronavirus success story, with little to no transmission. Little did the international community or fellow Singaporeans know that the true devastation was out of sight, out of mind. It was within the dormitories of poor migrant workers that the virus took hold. By late April, 85% of Singapore’s cases were in dorms occupied by migrants (source).
This is not unique to Singapore, as other countries reliant on vulnerable migrant workers continue to be disproportionately affected by Covid-19. On May 2nd, 2020, the International Labor Organization (ILO) issued a report noting Syrian refugees and undocumented workers were impacted dramatically more than local Jordanians. In Mexico, workers risk their jobs by participating in strikes questioning the definition of “essential workers” and demanding labor rights to protect their health and safety (source). In the United States, many farm supervisors and workers warned of the threat of the pandemic affecting workers in the food and agriculture supply chains, with cluster outbreaks in meat processing plants in 19 states (source, source).
What each of these stories highlights is that the burden of COVID-19 has been unevenly distributed across gender, racial and socio-economical lines. And this tragic time, yet again, is exposing these inequities and calling all corporations and actors within systems of power to take a stand and make a difference. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), or social sustainability, exists to stand for business as a force for good and drive impact.
ELEVATE values action, getting in front of issues and challenges we as a society face, rather than come at them from behind. We stand in solidarity with our clients and world leaders in a call to act for a more inclusive society, safe workplaces and to embrace the responsibility we all have to be the change we wish to see in the world.