UN and AU commit to advance business and human rights agenda in Africa

By United Nations - Office of the UN High Commissione

GENEVA, Switzerland, September 18, 2014/African Press Organization (APO)/ -- The first African Forum on Business and Human Rights concluded today with a strong call for action to make business a force for improving human rights in Africa. At the meeting, senior officials and experts underlined that the African Union and the United Nations will join forces to support responsible business practices in line with fundamental human rights standards.

“Amid rapid economic growth and new investments in land and natural resources, there is an increasing awareness of why human rights must be brought into business strategies and operations,” said Michael K. Addo, chair of the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights.

”Not only is this the only way to ensure the interest and welfare of the people of Africa, it is also good business and critical for the sustainability of investments,” added Abdalla Hamdok, Deputy Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Africa.

The African Regional Forum, held from 16 to 18 September in Addis Ababa, brought together 200 representatives of governments, business, civil society, and national human rights institutions to debate the defining challenges of Africa today.

At the core of discussions were the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, the global authoritative standard for preventing and addressing negative human rights impacts linked to business activity.

“All too often human rights concerns have fallen by the wayside in the race to attract foreign investment. We have to fundamentally break with this logic and ensure that business and respect for human rights go hand-in-hand,” said AU Commissioner for Political Affairs, Aisha Abdullahi.

“The UN Guiding Principles provide a globally agreed global standard on how to make business and human rights work together. What is needed now is to translate these standards into concrete action plans and implementation tools tailored to the realities of African countries,” she added.

The Regional Forum was convened by the United Nations Working Group on Business and Human Rights, with the support of the African Union Commission, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Participants from across Africa called for responsible business practices that respect human rights, provide adequate safeguards to protect against business-related rights abuses, and ensure victims can seek redress.

National action plans were identified as an important tool to advance the business and human rights agenda. Such plans should be developed though inclusive consultative processes, bringing on board all stakeholders, to identify problems and find solutions.

At the Regional Forum, the AU Commission and the UN Working Group committed to work jointly to advance the business and human rights agenda. Specific steps include the development of practical tools adapted to the realities in African countries to implement the UN Guiding Principles.

The African Forum will feed into the next global UN Forum on Business and Human Rights – the world's largest dialogue on business and human rights – to be held in Geneva from 1 to 3 December 2014.