As the social and economic ramifications of the coronavirus pandemic are quickly becoming clear, including a looming recession, growing unemployment and significant operational and supply chain interruptions, the well-being of millions of workers hangs in the balance.
While it is clear that social isolation is crucial to protect workers and to control the spread of the virus, widespread layoffs by companies will only exacerbate the current economic turmoil and further destabilize markets, say the investors.
As a result, investors are taking action.
1. Investor Statement on Coronavirus Response:
A group of 336 investors representing US$9.5T led by Domini Impact Investments, ICCR and the New York City Comptroller’s Office have issued a 5-point plan for businesses to protect workers amid the crisis. Key points include:
- provide paid leave,
- prioritize health and safety,
- maintain employment,
- keep supplier/customer relationships, and
- fiscal prudence.
2. Call for Pharmaceutical Companies to Adopt a Collaborative Approach to COVID-19 Response:
On April 1st, investors sent letters to the CEOs of fourteen pharmaceutical companies calling for a collaborative approach in response to the global pandemic. Among the actions investors recommend these companies consider are:
- Share compounds, assets and data with researchers to accelerate the development of diagnostics, treatments and a vaccine;
- Widely register products as candidates for diagnostics, vaccines and medicines;
- Support governments’ decisions to issue compulsory licenses to ensure affordable prices;
- Issue voluntary licenses and explore licensing agreements with existing organizations to facilitate access;
- Support low- and middle-income countries, as they lack resources to adequately respond to the COVID-19 threat by not enforcing intellectual property rights.
Investors are additionally urging pharma companies to govern with financial prudence and to maintain a commitment to data quality and patient safety.
The following companies received the letter: AbbVie; Amgen; Biogen; Bristol-Myers Squibb; Gilead; GSK; Eli Lilly; Johnson & Johnson; Merck; Pfizer; Novartis; Roche; Sanofi; Vertex.
3. Investor Letter to 43 Apparel & Footwear Brands Urging then to Safeguard Workers During Pandemic:
Workers in the apparel and footwear sector have been especially squeezed during the pandemic as global brands cancel and/or reduce previously confirmed orders and, in some cases refuse or delay payment for already completed work. Migrant workers are particularly at risk. Investors have sent letters to the 43 apparel and footwear brands named in KnowTheChain’s December 2018 report on forced labor risk. Two additonal leters will be sent to Next and Urban Outfitters which are included in KnowTheChain’s 2020/2021 benchmark report.
Following are the 4 key steps that investors are calling on global brands to take to protect Bangladesh's garment workers:
- promptly pay suppliers for existing orders;
- prioritize worker health & safety;
- voluntary-only overtime; and
- no punishment of suppliers for Covid-related delays.
Read Senior Program Director David Schilling's blog on the impact Covid-19 is having on the Bangladesh garment sector.
4. Joint Statement Calling on Governments to Ensure Corporate Accountability in Response to COVID-19
ICCR signed onto this May 6 statement calling for
- human rights and environmental due diligence
- worker protections
- sensible implementation of government stimulus
- integration of supply chain impacts
- public disclosure & transparency
- support for at-risk populations, and
- access to remedy
5. Investors Call for Increased Protections for Meat Workers
On May 21, ICCR released a joint statement endorsed by 118 institutions with $2.3 trillion USD in combined assets that highlighted risks to workers in the meat sector due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and contained specific recommendations to help safeguard all stakeholders, workers, and their families and communities.
Among the measures being recommended by the investors are that meat processing companies:
- Enforce physical distancing and reduce line speed;
- Provide wage increases to reflect the increased risks to workers, and full paid sick-leave for all workers who test positive for the virus;
- Support worker’s rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining;
- Rigorous testing before/after shifts and retesting and quarantining of all employees who have had confirmed contact with other infected persons before allowing them back in the plant; and,
- Clarify that the company opposes any and all federal or state policies that would deny meatpacking and poultry workers unemployment benefits or stimulus relief for refusing to go back to work for fear of contracting COVID-19.
6. How Food and Beverage Companies and Retailers can Help Mitigate the Worst Impacts of COVID19
In early June of 2020 investors sent letters to food & beverage companies (Campbell's Soup; Cocal Cola; Conagra; General Mills; Kellogg's, Keurig Dr. Pepper; Kraft Heinz; Mondelez; Nestle, PepsiCo and Unilever) and retailers (Kroger, Target and Dollar Tree), asking the companies to consider scaling-up efforts to protect the health and safety of both their employees and customers. Specifically investors asked companies to address short-term demands on the food supply chain by:
● Strengthening the accessibility and affordability of food products
● Ensuring worker, customer, visitor and vendor safety during the crisis
● Ensuring the quality of food donations and incorporating healthy guidelines into the company’s donation policies.
In addition, in December 2020 investors sent a letter to 21 brands on their role in contributing to racial disparities in food system.
7. Investors Urge Pharma Companies to Put People Before Profits
In letters sent to 17 pharmaceutical companies, in August of 2020 ICCR's members strongly urged financial prudence and a commitment to strategies that will ensure widespread access to treatments and vaccines for COVID-19, including affordable pricing and the sharing of technology to scale-up manufacturing. And in December of 2020, ICCR members announced that they filed shareholder proposals at six pharmaceutical companies in an effort to learn how the companies will price COVID medicine developed with public monies.
8. Letter to President Bident Urging U.S. Support to Waive Intellectual Property Protections for COVID-19 Vaccines and Treatments
According to the Bloomberg COVID-19 Vaccine Tracker, as of March 7, 2021, the global vaccination rate is 7.9 million doses per day. At this rate, it will take nearly four years to cover 75% of the world’s population with a two-dose vaccine. For this reason, ICCR members have asked President Biden to support an emergency COVID-19 waiver of World Trade Organization (WTO) intellectual property rules, so that greater supplies of vaccines, treatments, and diagnostic tests can be produced in as many places as possible as quickly as possible.
Read the letter here.