Thursday, August 15, 2013

U.N. Expert Answers Questions from African NGOs about Protecting Human Rights around Business Activity

Last Saturday, Global Rights sat down (virtually) with Dr. Michael Addo, one of five members of the United Nations Working Group on Business and Human Rights, to discuss how African civil society organizations can engage with their governments, businesses and the UN to ensure that human rights are protected where businesses operate.

During the Q&A, Lien De Brouckere, Global Rights’ director of natural resources and human rights, asked Dr. Addo questions she received from 11 civil society organizations (CSOs) in Nigeria, Rwanda, Tanzania, Kenya, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Ivory Coast. These organizations expressed concern that because the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights are voluntary, it is unclear what, if any, sanctions or penalties will be issued when states or companies fail to comply.

Responding to this, Dr. Addo invited civil society organizations to reimagine their relationship with businesses—to shift from an adversarial approach to one marked by collaboration. He added that human rights issues often originate from a lack of understanding among governments, businesses, CSOs and communities affected by business activity:
“As much as I would like to think in a sense of perpetrators and victims, we can also think of it in a slightly different way in terms of misunderstandings, errors, and completely different expectations. But as we put our individual expectations together, and express them, we begin to understand each other.”
The U.N. expert emphasized that the UN Guiding Principles are based on the idea of “collective ownership” and not on sanctions and penalties. Each stakeholder has a distinct contribution to make, and by making that contribution together, the outcome will be more effective. At the same time, the UN Guiding Principles also draw on legally-binding standards already established under national law. What can be done, however, when states do not exercise enough political will to enforce these laws? Dr. Addo responded to this concern by sharing valuable insights on how CSOs can effectively and directly approach and work with governments and companies. He also offered suggestions about how organizations can reach out directly to the UN Working Group.

Dr. Addo also lent the UN Working Group’s support for this initiative, which Global Rights has launched, in partnership with the International Corporate Accountability Roundtable (ICAR) and the European Coalition for Corporate Justice (ECCJ), to strengthen the voices of civil society organizations that are engaged in addressing human rights issues related to business development in Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America . So far, Global Rights has reached out to more than 20 civil society organizations in 15 countries from Western, Eastern and Southern Africa in this initiative.

We welcome you to watch the fascinating interview with Dr. Addo in its entirety!

No comments:

Post a Comment