Friday, August 8, 2014

A Missed Opportunity at U.S.-Africa Summit

Hundreds of Ethiopians protest Ethiopia's human rights record during the U.S.-Africa Summit in Washington, with one man holding a sign that reads "Human Rights before Investment."

WASHINGTONAt the U.S.-Africa Business Forum on Tuesday, President Barack Obama announced $33 billion in new private and government investment in sub-Saharan Africa, including new projects within Africa’s energy, aviation and construction sectors.

Such robust U.S. investment in Africa holds immense potential to catalyze major economic development on the continent. Any investment in Africa, however, must be buttressed by effective measures designed to promote the welfare and human rights of everyday Africans. If history is to be our guide, the absence of such measures will have devastating consequences for everyday Africans, including poverty, social instability, corruption, and mass displacement.

That’s why a group of 52 African civil society organizations penned an open letter July 25 to President Obama and the more than 50 African heads of state who were invited to the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit. In the letter, the organizations asked to participate and have their business-related, human rights concerns included within the agenda at Tuesday's Business Forum. Although the African civil society organizations—and their priorities—were ultimately excluded from the Forum, their collective appeal garnered the attention of media outlets and influential leaders in the business and human rights field, including John Ruggie, Harvard professor and former U.N. Special Representative for Business and Human Rights who spearheaded the drafting of the U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

The 52 African groups are part of the African Coalition for Corporate Accountability, which Global Rights helped found in November 2013 and which now comprises 73 organizations from 27 African countries that work daily to mitigate the harmful impacts of business activities. The impetus for the coalition came from the member organizations' firm belief that African civil society has the potential—and the right—to participate in decision-making processes that determine how government and corporations carry out investment projects in their communities. ACCA was praised by Mr. Ruggie, who said that it has “the potential both to amplify the voice of the vulnerable and to become a partner in defining solutions to business and human rights challenges.”

As part of our work with ACCA, Global Rights will host a regional meeting for 40 ACCA members from September 18-20 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, which will focus on transitioning the fledgling coalition into a self-sufficient, fully operational African coalition—the first of its kind on the continent. The meeting will follow the three-day African Regional Forum on Business and Human Rights, which will be hosted by the African Union and a number of U.N. development agencies.

We look forward to keeping you informed about ACCA, and we invite you to support this critical work.

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