Sedex guidance on COVID-19

The businesses and people most vulnerable to health and economic impacts of COVID-19

When considering the impacts of COVID-19 and how companies should respond, it is important to note that not all people are and businesses are affected by COVID-19 in the same way. Some businesses and people are more vulnerable to the impacts than others. Here, “vulnerable” refers to susceptibility to, or risk of harm due to COVID-19.

  • For businesses – vulnerability to COVID-19 includes those that have low cash reserves and little access to credit – are vulnerable to bankruptcy.
  • For people – vulnerability to COVID-19 includes those who have little or no financial buffer, insecure employment and/or poor health.

The presence or absence of governmental support for businesses and state funded healthcare and social safety net is of critical importance. In countries without state support, businesses and people are extremely vulnerable to the impacts of COVID-19.
Vulnerable groups of people include:

  1. Workers without established or regular contracts, those within the informal economy or other form of insecure work (gig workers, zero hours contracts, self-employed or seasonal workers) are often first to lose employment and may have less access to unemployment benefit and social security.
  2. Those with existing or underlying health issues are more susceptible to COVID-19.
  3. Those earning low wages as many will not have the economic buffer required to pay for food and accommodation during periods of sick leave, unemployment or if earning reduced wages.
  4. Those in accommodation linked to employment, those living on their own (and may be vulnerable during periods of mandatory isolation) or in very crowded homes.
  5. Those over 60 years old are more susceptible to COVID-19 health risks.
  6. Women and/or those with caregiving responsibilities and those looking after elderly relatives. Women will likely bear the brunt of the social and economic disruption, as they still do more caregiving. So, when the virus results in closure of schools, restricts travel, and puts elderly relatives at risk, women may have to bear the burden of even more responsibilities at home, increasing existing inequalities. These inequalities include access to paid leave; discrimination when it comes to terminating contracts, where women are the first to be let go; and increase reports of domestic violence as confinement measures are being implemented [1].
  7. Migrants (including domestic migrants in some countries e.g. China and India) who may not be able to get home and may not have access to local healthcare or the same legal rights as local workers. Those without a right to work may be particularly vulnerable at this time.
  8. Workers who organise or raise grievances (for example around PPE and wage payment) are vulnerable to employment termination or retaliation.
  9. Indigenous communities may be more susceptible to COVID-19.
  10. Groups who are subject to cultural and legal discrimination may be earning lower wages, be more likely to have contracts terminated, or become unemployed, and may also have less access to health and social care.
  11. Groups who live or work in densely populated areas with limited ability to isolate are more susceptible to COVID-19.

Note that the above groups can intersect, so a person may be a migrant woman on a temporary contract and reliant on employer provided accommodation, thereby at a substantially increased risk to the health and financial impacts of COVID-19.


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[1] ILO Standards and COVID-19 (coronavirus) FAQ: Key provisions of international labour standards relevant to the evolving COVID-19 outbreak