Thursday, January 16, 2014

African Organizations Band Together to Tackle Rights Abuses Linked to Business Activity

In Tanzania, improper management of a foreign-owned gold mine led to high levels of arsenic in a main water source for a local community. In Nigeria, local townspeople have received little or no compensation from companies responsible for oil spills that have poisoned drinking water and destroyed crops and livestock. In Kenya, 60,000 indigenous people who were evicted from their ancestral lands decades ago still wait for the Kenyan government to compensate them for what they lost.

Tanzanian man affected by poisoned drinking water, a result of negligent management of a foreign-owned gold mine.

Dozens of African human rights organizations fight every day for the rights of these disempowered and often vulnerable people. However, for most of these organizations, the fight is fought alone.

Unlike their counterparts in other regions, organizations based in Africa that tackle human rights issues related to business activity had never formed a broad coalition. They had never spoken with a unified voice.

That changed in late November 2013 when Global Rights brought together in Ghana representatives of 25 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from sub-Saharan Africa to have them share their experiences and knowledge and form a broad coalition that would foster more information sharing and solidarity. As a result of the meeting, the African Coalition for Corporate Accountability (ACCA) was launched. Coalition members identified the most pressing issues they face in their work today and articulated these in a declaration, which they then presented in December at the United Nations Second Annual Forum on Business and Human Rights in Geneva.  Civil society leaders from across the world in Geneva praised the establishment of ACCA, and many other human rights groups around the world have already reached out to support the fledgling coalition—all signs that point to the power ACCA has to shape the corporate accountability agenda across Africa.

Representing a unified front, ACCA members will now have more bargaining power when lobbying corporations and their governments to properly address existing and potential human rights violations. In the declaration, ACCA Members emphasize four primary areas of concern for their constituencies and communities.  The first is the need for enhancing protection and respect for collective and individual rights in relation to the activities of business enterprises. One issue, in particular, is that businesses and governments frequently bypass communities entirely when planning the construction of a new operation, such as a mine. For example, from 1973-1986 the Kenyan government forcefully evicted about 60,000 indigenous people called the Endorois Community to make room for a ruby mine and a game reserve. The community was never consulted.

The second main concern is the need to enhance protection and respect for labor rights. ACCA members represent people who work in extremely hazardous conditions for very little pay. In Zamfara State in Nigeria, for example, more than 500 Nigerian children who worked in gold mines have died since 2010 from lead poisoning contracted at the mine.

Another pressing concern is the lack of effective and accessible means for victimized communities to seek redress for human rights violations perpetrated against them. Even if these methods exist, there is little or no assurance that the government or responsible companies will actually follow through with their obligations. For example, the African Human Rights Commission ruled in 2010 that the aforementioned Endorois Community deserved to be compensated by the Kenyan government; however, the community members have not had their land returned to them nor received proper financial compensation.

Finally, many African states fail to enforce their own laws, whether they are inscribed in their own legal codes or in regional or international conventions to which they are signatories. The United Nations, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and the constitutions of many African countries include laws related to the protection of the environment, the rights of indigenous and minority populations, and other human rights-related laws that were put in place to avoid or remedy the very issues that communities in all regions of Africa currently face.

In our next steps, Global Rights will continue to work with the ACCA members to help them use their new, unified voice to more effectively lobby their governments and engage with companies to address these critical issues.

Global Rights and the members of ACCA are thankful for the continued support for this initiative from organizations that include: Human Rights Watch, the International Corporate Accountability Roundtable, the Centre for Research on Multilateral Organizations (the Netherlands), and Natural Justice: Lawyers for Communities and the Environment (South Africa).

No comments:

Post a Comment