--By Dwaipayan Regmi
Tracing history, human rights violations can be notably found in mining companies, since early times. It was in existence during the time of white domination over Africans. Despite the introduction of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), corporate houses tended not to take issue. After the Human Development Report was published in 2000 which stated, 'Of all Human Rights failures today, those in economic and social affect by far the larger number and are most wide spread across world's nations and large number of people', issues concerning human rights violations in the corporate world was iced over. No attention was given before.
Human rights violations can be noticed from the initial phase of recruitment. Biasness towards disability and gender can be noticed throughout the world, including Nepal. A company hesitates to employ disabled people even if they can do the task just as efficiently as an able bodied person. Discrimination towards third genders can be noticed in large digits.
Human rights abuses can be seen where people gather raw materials. From cases of Yarchagumba collection in Western Nepal, to Jar-water collection at the source - the use of children can be noticed. Similar cases can be noticed in manufacturing firms as well. Although the use of children in big industries is drastically low, cases in medium scale and cottage industries can be noticed more widely. Once it gets out into the market, the rights of consumers can be found to be ignored. The Gudpak story of New Road, Kathmandu is a case in point. Or be it at highway hotels, it seems as if consumer rights is a complete abstract terminology.
Equally, correlating paradigms of human trafficking, exploration, abuse of migration workers, assault and harassment of domestic workers in private households can be noticed throughout the world. The International Labor Organization (ILO) has stated that forced labour can be found in all industries and all locations with migrant workers, indigenous people and women in a vulnerable state. Cases of unfair treatment with biased compensation can also be observed in organisations.
When organisations look at profit more than people, and upon economic and political power and dreams of ruling the world of corporations, while ignoring entire moral guidelines, then human rights violations within corporate sectors can be noticed in a wide proportion. It is the state which basically has to be liable for any human rights assurance cases; however, with the growth of the corporate sector, they have been turning into powerful giants. Wal-Mart's revenue exceeds the GDP of more than a hundred individual countries of the world, showing how the corporate world is getting stronger than the state itself. It's however the greed and desire for more money, that leads to human rights violations.
The first challenge that states throughout the world are facing today is to meet and attain Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). SDG has broadly set the target of inclusive and equitable opportunities, especially for women and their empowerment. It has also promoted sustainable production patterns and has targeted higher levels of economic production, leading to decent work for all women, men including persons with disabilities and equal pay for work of equal value. The concern for ethics and values with a legal aspect was addressed only after the Human Rights Commission adopted the Guiding Principles of Businesses for the first time in 2011.
Concern in Nepal has been shown only to immigrant workers’ rights, with negligence to various human rights abuses within the country’s domestic organisations. Despite the cases of excessive child labour being highlighted by the international market in Nepal, the concern over it cannot yet be noticeably seen. Nepal had already been bearing a loss due to excessive child labour practices in the carpet industry. This apart, sexual harassment in organisations is the next hidden issue in Nepali industries. Abuse and over work, with an inappropriate environment can be the next issue of crucial concern in Nepal.
Respect to human rights not only promotes goodwill, but ensures better quality of products, portrays good relations with stakeholders, and creates a better social impact. It helps to make a firm legal stand as acceptance of human rights principles is a base for legal regulations. It creates satisfaction within employees as they gain the feeling of being treated with justice. The competitor will be obligated to pay attention due to future fears of damages caused by human rights violations in their firms as well. The image of Swiss based companies would have been much higher if they were able to show concern on human rights issues within their organisations. Because of their negligence in multinational operations, several impacts have been noticed of environmental concerns as well, spreading a negative vibe about entire Swiss companies.
Solutions and measures for addressing these cases can be divided under four broad categories. The first one deals with prevention, showing concern over the best practices and the preparation of planned guidelines to operate accepting human rights principles and norms. Accountability is next. It has to be the organisation which needs to be accountable for any damages bourne, be it in the case of employee safety and occupational health, or in regard to the impact to the environment outside the organisation. Should not hospitals be accountable if they kill people because of their negligence? Remedy is the next way to ensure human rights, because there can be incidents, and remedies must be pre planned, or can be decided then in a fair manner, keeping profit at a lower concern than ethics. Ultimately, it is the state which is liable for the protection and promotion of human rights, hence, it must play a careful role.
A case in point is Nigeria, where two oil tankers’ spillage destroyed thousands of livelihoods and the environment but Amnesty International and Center for Environment, Human Rights and Development made the company responsible for the clean-up and made them pay the necessary compensation. In vast contrast we have Bhopal, where despite the huge loss of human life, the company has not yet been able to fulfill its obligations, and the low monitoring of the state has kept the entire environment still affected. Although Modi's Swachh Bharat campaign seems to be gaining popularity, measures that are adopted within the affected areas of Bhopal seem to be ignored as well, all this despite Amnesty International's campaign over Bhopal.
Despite OECD calling on multinationals to respect the internationally recognised human rights of those affected by the activities of companies, it has been lagging behind in implementation. Human rights are not a privilege, but a guarantee, and business firms should be part of the solution rather than being a problem.
Human rights activists may not have access to the jungles of Africa to evaluate how the raw materials are gathered, hence it is important for the organisations to publish reports showing how inclusive human rights are, which has already been initiated by companies like Adidas, Volvo, Vodafone, Starbucks, Microsoft etc.
The author is an MBA student, freelance writer and a blogger.