Inequalities in income and wealth are severe and have been widening globally. The richest 1% of the world’s population now control up to 40% of global assets, while the poorest half owns just one per cent. Income equality between countries is higher than that within a large majority of countries, such that individual incomes are still largely associated with a person’s citizenship and location. Wide and often mutually reinforcing disparities are also evident within countries, including disparity in terms of: rural/urban disparities, household wealth, gender, ethnic minorities and indigenous people, migrant status, and disability.
Businesses are engines for economic growth, having the potential to create jobs, foster economic activity through their value chain, and contribute tax revenues for public services and infrastructure. However, business can also exacerbate inequality, and its structural drivers, including by being complicit in perpetuating biases and discrimination. All businesses have the responsibility to respect human rights. This includes adopting and implementing policies on respect for human rights including worker’s rights (collective bargaining, decent work conditions, etc.). In supply chains, one area to pay particular attention to is when third parties, such as recruitment agencies, are used to source labor. Such activity may place migrant workers at risk of exploitation such as forced labor and human trafficking, including where recruitment fees are charged to workers and where identity documents are retained. Thus, in addition to addressing their own impacts, businesses should use leverage to try to address adverse impacts with which they may be involved through third parties such as suppliers. Such leverage can also be used to encourage changes in policies and practices that may exclude workers based on factors such as age, gender, religious beliefs, national origin, or ethnicity.
Companies should engage governments in a transparent and accountable way, and disclose payments to governments. Whether through public policy dialogue or tax revenue, relationships between companies and governments are increasingly recognized as having a significant impact on human rights, which may exacerbate or improve inequality outcomes.
In addition to avoiding contributing to inequality, companies can also have a positive impact on addressing inequality through inclusive business models that provide empowerment for marginalized groups in the workplace, marketplace and community.