Press release | Aug. 5, 2020

Companies must be held accountable for COVID-related deaths

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Global Witness condemns proposed corporate impunity in US' COVID-19 relief package. 

August 5, 2020, Washington, D.C. – As the US Congress currently considers a new COVID-19 relief bill and stimulus, Global Witness warns about the danger of including a provision absolving companies from liability for COVID-related illness and deaths.

The relief bill, currently under discussion in the Senate, removes legal protections from those who need it most – essential workers and members of the public who may be endangered by businesses’ failings. The Senate’s HEALS Act includes a liability shield that means workers who go back to work during the pandemic will have even less protection against unsafe working conditions – putting millions of Americans, many working for minimum wage salaries, at risk as they go back into their work place.

This includes workers at meat processing plants that have already been hotbeds of COVID outbreaks, as well as workers at oil refineries and offshore rigs where social distancing is nearly impossible. Marathon Petroleum’s Galveston Bay refinery in Texas has seen over 100 confirmed cases of COVID, as Texas and the country grapple with surging cases.

“The liability shield in the Senate COVID relief bill sets a dangerous precedent and is an alarming step in the wrong direction,” said Seema Joshi, Director of Campaigns at Global Witness. Earlier this year, Global Witness described how the COVID-19 context was being used as a justification to perpetuate impunity and disrespect for the rights of the citizens.

“We must rebuild our societies and economies so that they work with workers and communities, not against them. This means learning from marginalized peoples who are on the frontlines of economic and environmental crises, and ensuring that governments and businesses guarantee, rather than take away, human rights protections in their responses to the pandemic and its economic fall-out,” added Joshi.

Global Witness calls on the US Congress to pass a bill that provides real and substantial financial relief and protection for workers as well as communities hardest hit by COVID. Congress must not use the COVID crisis as a pretext to open the door to corporate impunity.

To learn more about this issue, you can join a virtual rally at 2pm EST on August 5, 2020.

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