PPE price hikes, failure to protect workers are human rights violations – SAHRC

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The SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) has urged businesses to uphold human rights during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a statement on Thursday, SAHRC expressed concern that some businesses may be unaware of their human rights obligations emanating from the Constitution, Constitutional Court rulings and international conventions.

It said these rights include the “fundamental right to human dignity and the right of access to healthcare services, and the right to the highest attainable standard of health.”

PPE price hikes, lack of precautionary measures

The SAHRC added, “Price hikes in respect of personal protective equipment (PPE) and other high-demand goods, as well as the failure to implement precautionary measures to protect workers from contracting COVID-19, therefore implicate various human rights.”

The Competition Commission has taken a number of businesses, including pharmaceutical retailers Dis-Chem and Centrum Pharmacy, to task over alleged excessive pricing of face masks.

Labour unions, such as the Democratic Nursing Organisation of SA and National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union, have also raised concerns over lack of PPEs for health workers in some hospitals and clinics.

“The business and private sector has to adopt preventative measures to mitigate against the spread of the virus and human rights violations; and also exercise human rights due diligence to ensure that their conduct does not contribute to the spread of the virus and violate human rights,” the SAHRC said.

Dept of Social Development ‘violated human rights’

It added that it will continue working with other statutory bodies, such as the Competition Commission, to ensure businesses uphold their human rights obligations.

Meanwhile, SAHRC Commissioner Jonas Sibanyoni on Wednesday slated the Department of Social Development for allegedly stopping non-profit organisations from distributing food.

Speaking to eNCA, Sibanyoni said, “Section 27 of the Constitution says everyone has got the right to food. As such, nobody can intervene and prevent the provision of food. That is why the Department of Social Development has been found to be violating human rights.”

His comments followed a complaint laid by the Democratic Alliance (DA), whose interim leader John Steenhuisen welcomed the findings on Thursday.

He tweeted, “It’s a shame for government to punish humanitarians assisting needy people during this crisis.

“South Africa’s response must be underpinned by facts, openness and incentives, rather than fear, secrecy and coercion. Not just for ideological reasons, but to promote compliance and public safety.”

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