Philanthropy cannot Substitute for Just Working Conditions

Andrea Shemberg

1 April 2020 / COVID-19

Philanthropy cannot Substitute for Just Working Conditions

1 April 2020 / COVID-19

As part of the team that developed the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, I am intensely interested in all the good that some companies are doing during the COVID-19 crisis, such as paying workers despite shuttering operations. However, some company reactions to COVID-19 have also left me deeply concerned.

Perhaps most vividly, COVID-19 has demonstrated why paid sick leave and employment protection for sick workers must be considered fundamental to just and favorable conditions of work. These individual labour rights also provide vital protection to broader society by protecting us all against the fate of working with sick colleagues, eating food cooked by sick people, or having our packages delivered by sick delivery drivers.

The denial of paid sick leave – even for temporary, seasonal, sub-contracted or “independent partners” – leaves people and society at risk. Sadly, we have allowed business to flourish in part because of their reliance on stripping workers and society of these protections.

In this light, I am concerned to see that some companies now frame their efforts to temporarily make up for bad employment practices as corporate philanthropy or an acts worthy of congratulations. It is even more concerning to see a thriving company dare to ask for (tax deductible) donations from the public to pay their workers what should have been coming to them in the first place.

Corporate philanthropy can do positive things, but when it becomes the substitute for just working conditions, it is time for serious change.