As business in Africa experiences exponential growth and attracts foreign investors to the continent, so are the expectations of its citizens for greater accountability and transparency from both their government and businesses operating within their respective borders. Southern Africa’s abundance of natural resources attracts both international and national companies to Malawi’s borders. This explains, in part, why the topic of business and human rights is quickly becoming a focal point within the sub-region.
The sharp increase in business activities within the sub-region has, unfortunately, led to negative consequences for Malawi and underscored the need for governments within the region to shift their focus towards business and human rights. Even though some companies adhere to the principle of respect for human rights equates business success, others continue to ignore this principle whilst the infringement on human rights increases at an alarming rate.
On 25th June 2015, the Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC), in collaboration with the United Nations (UN) and Citizens for Justice (CFJ), held a one day multi-stakeholder dialogue on BHR which took place at the Golden Peacock Hotel in Lilongwe. The aim of the dialogue session was to raise awareness and initiate discussions around key business and human rights issues in Malawi. Amongst the participants were government representatives, the judiciary, community representatives, traditional chiefs, the business community, MHRC, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), UN representatives, bilateral financing institutions along with development partners. Given that the field of business and human rights is a relatively new focus area in Malawi, training was held in the form of an orientation which took place from 23rd to 24th June 2015.
Appreciating the role that business can play with regard to human rights in Malawi, the dialogue session focused on ways in which the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights can be used in addressing concerns within: (1) the extractive industries, (2) the banking sector, (3) the telecommunications industry, and (4) the agribusiness sector. International Human Rights treaties have, generally, not directly imposed legally binding obligations on private actors such as companies who, for their part, argue that the primary responsibility for enacting and enforcing national legislation to compel companies to respect human rights lies with states.
The dialogue addressed both judicial and non-judicial remedies at the community, company and national level and further examined how the interests of marginalised and vulnerable groups, including women and children, can be addressed to permit for an exchange of best practices. Participants called for the establishment of a multi-stakeholder dialogue platform on business and human rights , and the integration of business and human rights related issues in Malawi’s future National Human Rights Action Plan which is currently being developed by government in collaboration with the Ministry of Justice who is spearheading the project. The first draft to the National Human Rights Action Plan (2016-2020) was developed in Kasungu between 26th and 29th of August 2015, and provided a platform for CFJ along with other stakeholders such as the UN and Ministry of Justice to provide their input on how government together with CSOs may promote the Protect, Respect and Remedy approach in Malawi.
The Danish Institute for Human Rights (DIHR) together with CFJ developed and published the Human Rights and Business Country Guide which provides specific guidance to companies to assist in respecting human rights and contributing towards development. In order for companies to manage their potential human rights impacts, they need to be furnished with comprehensive information regarding the local human rights context in which they operate. The Country Guide provides a systematic overview of human rights of which companies should be particularly aware when operating abroad.
In conclusion, the Country Guide was produced through a comprehensive survey carried out by the DIHR and CFJ. The Country Guide seeks to improve human rights practices of companies operating in Malawi. The initial survey, which has been made publically available, was conducted by the DIHR between January 2014 and December 2014. The draft was then updated and localised by the CFJ between January and March 2015. In line with other Business and Human Rights Country Guides, the Malawi Country Guide provides a comprehensive overview of the manners in which companies’ activities impact on human rights locally. The Country Guide is the result of more than a year’s work, and provides a comprehensive approach in both its local recommendations and initiatives.
- Matildah M Mkandawire, Project Coordinator, Business and Human Rights
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