As the economic and human rights impacts of the COVID-19 outbreak come into view, we are again seeing supply chain and frontline workers, alongside those in precarious and informal jobs, bear the worst impacts of a crisis. The ITUC and Business & Human Rights Resource Centre are receiving increasing and worrying reports of mass lay-offs without social protection; little or no sick pay for self-isolation; and service workers not receiving the same protective measures as customers.

Workers in Asia are reporting accelerating mass lay-offs through factory shut-downs, and slow-downs, as the epidemic worsens. There are reports of factories using COVID-19 shut-downs to dodge union disputes, and health workers left vulnerable to infection through inadequate precaution by employers.

Businesses also face contraction, with UNCTAD reporting the top 5000 transnational corporations revising their 2020 earnings down by an average of nine per cent. Automotive companies and airlines estimate shrinkage of over -40%, and energy and raw materials industries -13%.

The initial evidence points to a cluster of leading companies acting promptly to protect their own employees by offering flexible work options, and some committing to pay hourly and subcontracted workers their regular wages despite reduced demand for services. Equally, leading governments are adopting early measures to mitigate the hardship faced by sick or laid-off workers and their families – measures that are also likely to reduce disease transmission rates. But we are not yet seeing similar considerations offered lower down supply chains where many millions of workers, often predominantly women, eke out a livelihood and will usually be the main carers for the sick in their families and communities.