The responsibility to sanitise the business environment on the African continent, to strike a balance between the needs of businesses and the rights of the people to a fair life and environment, and to offer a better safety net to Africans by making businesses more responsive to human rights has led to the drafting of the African Union Policy on Business and Human Rights.
This draft document, offering a framework, not only for the prevention of human rights abuses but their remediation when these occur across the continent, will formally be presented for adoption by the Heads of states and governments in the Africa Union in due course.
These leaders would then be equally expected to re-present the document for approval and implementation at the various national levels.
The consideration and validation of the draft of the Policy Framework was the subject of a gathering of over 50 participants comprised of representatives of the African Union (AU) member states, regional economic commissions (RECs), national human rights commissions, businesses, the media and civil society at the African Union Secretariat in Addis Ababa between March 21 and 22.
In a welcome statement, Mbari Aristide, the Acting Head of Democracy, Governance, Human Rights and Elections Division of the AU Department of Political Affairs, who welcomed participants to the event, underlined the AU’s commitment to the promotion of human rights in the continent through its developmental roadmap, Agenda 2063.
He said this is an agenda that envisages “an Africa of good governance, democracy, respect for human rights, justice and the rule of law”.
This, to him, further explains why the African Union Assembly of Heads of State and Government at Kigali summit, declared 2017 – 2026 as the “Human and Peoples’ Rights Decade in Africa”.
While noting that Africa has some of the fastest growing economies in the world and the potential to attract even greater economic investments, Mr. Aristide pointed out the AU’s recognition of the need for a business and human rights policy that is positioned to address some of the essential problems that come with this sort of growth, particularly the tendency for the disregard for human rights. He reiterated the AU’s continuous engagement with all the different and concerned stakeholders towards the realization of this new initiative of incorporating human rights in business.
On his part, the Head of the Political Section of the European Union Delegation to the AU, a crucial facilitator of the process, Luca Zampetti, in his keynote remarks, restated the EU’s willingness to promote business practices anchored on the responsibility and duty to protect human rights in Africa. This, to him, has led the EU to work closely with the AU and other stakeholders on the process.
Mr. Zanetti ultimately welcomed the AU policy framework as a necessary tool for the promotion of sustainable development in Africa.
The two-day deliberation involved the consideration of the work of the primary consultants to the drafting of this body of ‘legislation’, Romola Adeola of the McGill University Centre for Human Rights and Legal Pluralism and Manon Wolfkamp, a public affairs and sustainability consultant. This was occasioned by extensive inputs, and nuts and bolts engagement with the document by representatives of member states, continental human rights bodies, civil society actors and the media, in honing out a more perfect draft document.
The newer draft of the ‘soft law’ that has emerged from the validation/consultation process will be presented to the AU Specialized Technical Committee (STC) on Justice and Legal Affairs, which would discuss it on May 8 for adoption by the policy organs of the AU, before being finally tabled at the assembly of African Union member states and governments.