Exclusive interview with actvist Mfiti on rights and development

The United Nations since 2011 adopted the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights for all member states. Business, Companies and Projects need to comply with human rights in their operations. The requirement is for businesses of all sectors to do Human Rights Impact Assessment (HRIA) before embarking on any new projects or products. Nyasa Times reporter caught up with a rights activist Godfrey Mfiti, a lead Consultant for Institute of Sustainable Development-ISD. He is a specialist consultant in Human Rights Impact Assessments.

Godfrey Mfiti

Godfrey Mfiti

Questions:

  1. What are United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights?

A set of guidelines with the Objective of enhancing standards and practices with regard to business and human rights so as to achieve tangible results for affected individuals and communities. These guidelines apply to all States and to all business enterprises. These guidelines were endorsed by the United Nations Business and Human Rights Council in June, 2011. The member States must protect against business-related abuse withintheir territory/jurisdiction.

2.Why do countries need to adopt these guiding principles in practice?

Globalization pushes companies into new markets where they impact on communities.  Host States are unwilling or unable to address company human rights impacts by businesses from foreign countries.

At the same time home States don’t regulate their companies abroad.

  1. Why do Companies, Projects and business need to use these guiding principles?

By adopting guiding principles it is possible to facilitate dialogue where Companies can begin discussions with governments, workers, and communities on the basis of shared values and expectations.

The guidelines also help to manage risks. When human rights are ignored, it involves costs to companies. The companies that adopts guiding principles will acquire a social licence to operate in respective communities. For example;reputational, financial, legal, operational costs are managed.

 

  1. To which businesses, projects and type of companies do the guiding principles apply?

These guidelines apply to all States and to all business enterprises.Business enterprises should respect human rights. This means that they should avoid infringing on the human rights of others and should address adverse human rights impacts with which they are involved.Companies must ‘know and show’ respect for human rights through exercising human rights due diligence

  1. In Malawi do we need these UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights? What are the benefits to government?

Alignment of standards: Can be incorporated into labour inspection standards, environmental legislation, investment agreement making, etc.

Basis for legislation: Facilitate the alignment of policies, legislation, and government programmes with international standards

  1. Do we have cases of businesses violating Human Rights in this country? What are some current examples?

A number of human rights violations by businesses are reported in Malawi. For example where in some instances communities have complained of land grabbing, pollution, use of child labor, violation of workers’ rights and many other issues across the country.

  1. Is there a remedy of legal redress to companies, businesses, projects or investments violating human rights?

Access to remedy is itself a human right .Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him [or her] by the constitution or by law. – Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article 8

Remedy may include:  Apologies, restitution, rehabilitation, financial or non-financial compensation, punitive sanctions, prevention of harm through injunctions, or guarantees of non-repetition – Guiding Principle 25 commentary

  1. How can my company, Business, Project or investment comply with these guiding principles?

Any form of business need to do an initial mapping of the human rights risks and potential risks. This can be done through a human rights due diligence. Where Human rights due diligence is the term the Guiding Principles use to describe the overall process companies undertake to ensure respect for human rights. Due diligence includes Human Rights Impact Assessments, implementing findings, and measuring and reporting on performance.

  1. What is Human Rights Impact Assessment? How does it differ with Environmental and Social Impact Assessments?

The Guiding Principles provide clarity about how companies can meet their responsibility to respect human rights. Respect for human rights is defined as avoiding infringement on the rights of others and addressing adverse human rights impacts. To meet this responsibility, companies are expected to adopt a human rights policy and to carry out human rights due diligence. The key elements of human rights due diligence are: Assessing actual and potential impacts (including through HRIAs) ,Integrating and acting upon your findings ,Tracking performance  and Communicating how you are addressing actual and potential impacts

An HRIA simplifies the complexity of managing human rights by providing companies with a consistent, efficient, and systematic way to identify, prioritize, and address human rights risks and opportunities at a corporate, country, site, or product level.

While an HRIA will cover many of the same issues as a Social Impact Assessment, it often considers a wider scope of issues since its starting point is the full suite of internationally recognized human rights. An existing infringement on human rights must be addressed, while a negative social impact can sometimes be acceptable. The HRIA captures risks to rights holders in addition to risks to the business.

Relying on human rights experts and engaging directly with rights holders are other differentiators for HRIAs. The HRIA can build on or be integrated with broader socioeconomic assessments.

  1. Who can do Human Rights Impact Assessments? How long does it take?

The process of doing an HRIA takes a minimum of 6 weeks from desk research during mapping to any period up to 6 months. This depends on the nature and scope of business by the company.

  1. When is the right time to do HRIA?

The best time to do Human Rights Impact Assessment is when a new project or product is being launched in a new market of country. For example amining company need to do HRIA as it acquires a mining license from government.

  1. What benefits do my Company, Project or businesses gain from doing HRIA?

Reputation and brand is protected

Customer loyalty is gained

Recruitment / retention processes are well defined

Attract investors

Legal risk is reduced

Improve security

Reduces unnecessary shutdowns / disturbances

Social license to operate

  1. How does an HRIA align with a company’s other standards and policies related to human rights?

An HRIA should incorporate and reinforce relevant existing policies and standards. An initial mapping exercise that assesses the company’s current policy commitments against the full universe of potentially relevant human rights can help identify gaps that the HRIA can examine more closely.

  1. My company is just getting started on human rights. What comes first: a human rights policy or an HRIA?

We recommend conducting an initial corporate-wide mapping of human rights risks and opportunities as a first step. The human rights policy statement can then articulate commitments in the major risk and opportunity areas. Last, you would conduct in-depth HRIAs focused on the high-risk aspects of your business.

  1. What are the costs of doing HRIAs and how do companies engage you?

The cost of doing HRIAs depend on the nature and scope  of business for example it would cost more and take more time to do HRIA for a mining company than a bakery company both in a new market. Interested companies willing to do Human Rights Impact Assessment can engage Institute of Sustainable Development-ISD via email .The initial process involves corporate –wide mapping exercise.

Note: Institute of Sustainable Development-ISD is a local NGO that promotes corporate accountability and businesses to adhere to human rights. It works with local communities and government to ensure compliance to UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

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