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Launch: Transnational Corporations and Human Rights in Africa

- Ariella Scher

CALS today launches a publication exploring the binding treaty and designed to support African states and organisations engaging with the treaty process

The Centre for Applied Legal Studies is today launching the booklet ‘Transnational Corporations and Human Rights in Africa: The Case for a Binding Legal Instrument to Ensure Corporate Accountability on the Continent’ during the African regional Indaba on the UN binding treaty on business and human rights in Johannesburg.

The booklet brings together a collection of resources developed by CALS and our partners, addressing the themes related to the proposed treaty in which they have the most expertise. This publication explores the proposed treaty from an African feminist perspective. It interrogates the importance of including free, prior, and informed consent  (commonly referred to as FPIC) in the treaty and highlights environmental and climate justice issues. It also examines the treaty’s impact on trade and the importance of addressing illicit financial flows. Finally, it critically reflects on the treaty text and its process so far and proposes a way forward.

In their quest to maximise profits, transnational corporations have a legacy of exploiting Africa’s resources and abusing human rights in the process. The publication reveals that the impacts of these violations together with corporate impunity in Africa and other parts of the developing world, are not gender-neutral. Instead, patriarchal and capitalist systems combine to exploit the status of women in society and worsen gender inequality. In large industries such as extractives and agriculture, women are forced to bear the greatest burdens of environmental degradation and poor working and living conditions. Therefore, to develop a tool that successfully addresses corporate abuse and impunity, we must ensure it responds to the lived realities of those most affected by the abuse, particularly women and gender-diverse persons.

In relation to Affected Communities, the principle of free, prior, and informed consent aims to establish a standard where affected communities participate in the decision-making processes around the use of their land or other potential activities that may affect them. The principle of FPIC requires meaningful engagement with communities on potential projects, establishes their right to consent to a particular development, and the space to put forth alternatives.

The issue above connects well with the theme of Climate and Environmental Justice, which is dealt with in the booklet. Local and traditional rural communities, which make up most of the people in Africa, are mutually dependent on the environment. Several studies show that traditional practices and knowledge are the most effective in protecting and restoring the environment, while industrialised agriculture and extractivism are devastatingly impacting our rivers, forests, land, air, and ecosystems. Some of the debates around environmental rights in Africa started with the recognition of these impacts which result from the operations of corporations. Thus, to talk about environmental rights is also to recognise the importance of ending corporate impunity.

“The booklet further argues that the development of the treaty comes at a time of continuing economic liberalisation and thus increasing corporate power. It is important that the treaty recognises the deepening economic integration of the African continent, particularly through trade agreements. As states are forced to compete for foreign investment through deregulation, so transnational corporations continue to use this situation to their advantage and seek to profit from human rights abuses,” says Anesu Dera, attorney at the Centre for Applied Legal Studies. ‘States have the incentive to ignore these abuses and perpetuate the cycle of attracting investment on what is now their agreement-mandated development path.”

You can find a full version of the booklet here.

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