Business and Human Rights in the Arab region
In the context of the Pilot Project for the Promotion of Social Dialogue in the Southern Mediterranean Region (SOLiD), in partnership with the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and BUSINESSMED, ANND held a two day seminar in Beirut on 7 and 8 September 2016, to discuss issues related to Business and Human Rights.
Roberto Bissio, Executive Director – Third World Institute, joined the workshop participating in Session 1, The privet Sector and the New Development Paradigm – A Rights Based Perspective, Financing for Development from a Rights Based Approach (see his intervention below).
SOLiD-South Mediterranean Social Dialogue is a pilot project for the promotion of social dialogue in the Southern Mediterranean Neighborhood. It is a three years programme (2016-2018), with a €3.750 million budget, financed by the European Union. SOLiD brings together regional and international representatives of social partners as well as a number of relevant partners from the EU. The project is implemented by a consortium which consists of 10 members: ITUC (International Trade Union Confederation), BUSINESSMED (Union of Mediterranean Confederation of Enterprises), SOLIDAR (European network of NGOs), CNT Belgium (National Labor Council), CESE Morocco (Economic, Social and Environmental Council), ATUC (Arab Trade Union Confederation), ANND (Arab NGO Network for Development), ISCOS (Italian Union Institute for Cooperation and Development), Progetto SUD Italy (The Institute South Project), and AIP (Portugal Industry Association).
The seminar looked at the challenges facing human rights under the critical economic, social and political environment and at the contribution of social dialogue in improving human rights respect. The subject of business sector and human rights is considered an important topic discussed since ever. Its importance lies in the negative effects the multinationals have on human rights and the difficulty of restoring the balance or compensating for the losses caused by them, especially if the individuals who have been subjected to violations are from the developing countries where it is difficult for the individuals and governments to hold such firms accountable. Moreover, the enforced local legislations may not be applicable to international companies due to the absence of the power or the lack of jurisdiction of national courts.
The main objectives of the seminar were to:
- Discuss issues related to the business community’s responsibility in upholding human rights.
- Discuss human rights challenges under specific economic, social, and political environment.
- Discuss contribution of social dialogue to improve human rights compliance.
- Look into the role of CSOs in upholding human rights standards in initiatives involving the private sector.
Day one of the seminar focused on private sector involvement in Development. It included the following themes:
- Introduction to business environment and role of private sector in development of the region.
- Discussion of questions related to FfD and domestic resource mobilization in the new development paradigm.
- Discussion of rights-based approach to business sector involvement in development.
- Focus on flexibility in employment and PPPs.
- Discussion of redistributive policies, tax justice, social protection, and gender dimension in private sector involvement in development.
Day two of the seminar focused on mechanisms for business sector accountability, including:
- Introduction to international legal frameworks related to business and human rights.
- Discussion of various human rights mechanisms to monitor corporate compliance with international human rights standards.
- Discussion of local means of accountability from a rights-based perspective, through social dialogue.
- Roundtable dialogue on responsible business conduct standards in the Arab region.
Several conclusions were reached to enhance CSO participation in social dialogue, including:
- Need to enhance accountability, knowledge, and capacity on use of international mechanisms.
- Right to access information and knowledge of policies and agreements.
- Need to enhance legal work.
- Gender mainstreaming.
- Right to form unions and independent organizations.
- Enhance cooperation between civil society, unions, and specialized business sector (especially marginalized enterprises) and reach strategic agreement on national level covering all sectors.
- Activate dialogue through dialogue institutions, such as social and economic councils.
The main outcome of the conference was the recommendation to form joint working groups between representatives of unions and CSOs to follow-up on issues discussed in the seminar to enhance participation in social dialogue on 3 three themes:
- Theme 1: Role of the state in upholding human rights.
- Theme 2: Role of business sector in protecting human rights.
- Theme 3: Role of international institutions and partners.
Another main outcome revolved around three major questions to be asked in enhancing social dialogue:
- Is social dialogue possible with the absence or weakness of political powers and outside the framework of the state?
- Is social dialogue possible with the absence or weakness of a trade union movement?
- Is social dialogue useful with the lack of an alternative and sustainable developmental vision?
These questions will be raised and discussed through a civil society working group.
First session: Private sector and the new developmental model – Approach from a human rights perspective
Roberto Bissio, Third World Institute (ITeM)
Mr. Roberto Bissio talked about financing development from a human rights perspective, considering the subject one of the hottest topics of the discussions related to the new developmental agenda which was released almost a year ago and which would replace and expand the millennium goals binding the United Nations and international groups in the developmental role. The fundamental difference between the two developmental plans is that the millennium goals were based on the theme of eradicating extreme poverty in the world, while noting that extreme poverty is defined as living on less than one US dollars a day, and have set other goals as secondary targets in this regard. After lengthy, broad and participatory discussions between business leaders, civil society and governments about the new sustainable development goals, many of them required to focus on the other half of the extreme poverty eradication, considering that the millennium goals uprooted the first half. But many opposed that considering that it is very important to work on totally eradicating poverty and not just half of it and that relative poverty (as per its national relative definition) must be addressed in all countries including developed and middle-income countries, not only in developing countries.
Bissio added that the agenda repeatedly calls for the effective participation of the private sector and partnerships in the developmental process and that many topics in this agenda are still pending with the most important of them being indicators measuring inequality, sustainability and the factor list that will monitor the progress and commitment of the developed countries and firms, etc. The important question lies in the following: how this change will be funded? The agenda and discussions curriculum about financing the development includes different financing resources each having its own properties and problems related to the private sector:
1- Official development assistance offered by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development OECD (the traditional Official development assistance).
A paradox appears at this level. Regardless of the fact that it has been agreed, 40 years ago, that the international commitment to provide development assistance shall be 0.7% of the budget total, unless half of the same was completed so far, and regardless the fact that a great improvement was registered in this regard in the European levels, the beneficiary form these European aids are the European countries themselves since most of them help immigrants and refugees. Germany remains the only country to register an improvement in ODA rate and calculate the share spent locally. On the other hand, there is trend to adopt a concept of the overall support for sustainable development since there are different opinions concerning whether aids granted for firms and military aids shall be calculated form the total ODA. Among the questions asked in this context: to which extent international aids support private investments to achieve the required development level?
Shall the costs and profits of this investment be calculated in the financial contribution assessment process? What about the damage caused by this investment to the community? Such as toxic gas emissions? How can we address the problem resulting from increasing UN contributions from outside the budget from 20 to 80% which threatens the governments of not being able to manage this money based on their priorities but to be subject to international decisions most of the time?
2- Investments and foreign credits? This point is important, all countries are interested in attracting foreign investments, but fear their risks, as investors managed to protect their rights and their authority in international law through international courts to enable them to hold the government accountable in confiscation cases while the government does not have such power. Knowing that the concept of confiscation has recently faced a significant expansion that induced exploitative reactions: In Uruguay, the State has incurred large sums of money as a result of a lawsuit filed by Philip Morris accusing the government of damaging his brand after issuing a decision to enlarge the warning against smoking on the cigarette packs. In Salvador, the government paid an amount of a one hundred million dollars after forbidding the gold and minerals extraction company from working near the cleanest river in the country in order to prevent any harm that might be caused to the health of the citizens due to the contamination of the only healthy water source and that only when the company expressed its will to invest there, in an ostensible violation to the Charter of the United Nations Human Rights Commission.
3- Local resources use It shall be considered as the main source of funding since it relies on a tax system that can be ascending (that move wealth from rich to poor) or regressive (as in Brazil). In some countries, tax rate decreases while increasing the firm’s size which makes the employee pays a larger tax then the employer (in absolute value) , which applies in particular to the private sector.
4- Partnerships In general, there are plenty of ways to make the tax system ascending and fair in accordance with economic, social and developmental conditions of each country and this requires, in many cases, the creation of partnerships with the private sector. But it lacks accountability, especially for major institutions involved in development, which threatens the ability of coordination on how to use the funds and thus achieve the desired goal. Bissio has reported two examples, the first about the weakness of accountability in one of the largest-funded institutions for development Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the loss that occurred in the reduction of maternal mortality project in Botswana as a result of the same problem).