Trade agreements must go with human rights standards

Ms Diana Asonaba Dapaah, Deputy Attorney-General and Deputy Minister for Justice has called for a review of current trade and investment promotion agreements to ensure compliance with business and human rights standards.

The review, she said, was necessary for the development and implementation of a National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights that would reduce the facilitation of illicit financial flows and tax evasion through unfair practices.

Delivering the keynote address at the opening of a two-day African Business and Human Rights Forum, Ms Dapaah also suggested the development of a universally applicable human rights policy for all State-Owned Enterprises (SOE) to ensure compliance with human rights standards.

“It is proposed that private entities that receive financial support demonstrate a commitment to Business Human Rights (BHR) principles, including, by providing access to remedy for human rights violations by requiring a commitment to BHR principles as a basis for receiving continued funding,” she said.

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The United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council in 2011 adopted the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, (UNGPs) which are set of guidelines for States and companies to prevent and address human rights abuses committed in business operations.

It includes operational provisions that recommend concrete actions for states to meet their duty to protect human rights in the context of business operations.

The provisions consist of enacting and enforcing laws that require businesses to respect human rights; creating a regulatory environment that facilitates business respect for human rights; and providing guidance to companies on their responsibilities.

So far, there are only two countries on the continent that have developed National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights to streamline existing rules, regulations, and policies for the oversight of businesses and investments in accordance with the guiding principles.

Kenya became the first country in Africa to develop a National Action Plan on business and human rights (NAP) in 2019, followed by Uganda in 2021.

Ghana started the process with a National Baseline Assessment on business and human rights, which was validated at a stakeholder workshop in Accra in December 2021, and later launched in July 2022.

A National Steering Committee has since been inaugurated to develop a National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights. 

The committee has a membership of representative from the relevant ministries, department and agencies, trade unions, civil society organisations and the academia.

Ms Simone Perta Giger, Ambassador of Switzerland to Ghana, called on businesses to regard human rights issues as moral imperatives as well as a legal obligation in their “enlightened self-interest.”

“It is arguably good business to ensure that human rights are respected and protected,” she added.

Mr Issaka Garba Abdou, Acting Head, Governance and Human Rights Division of Africa Union Commission (AUC), representing Mr Bankole Adeoye, Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security, said the forum, “would contribute to the effort of the AU to popularise and build support for the AU Draft Policy on Business and Human Rights”.

“You may recall that currently, there is no one comprehensive policy instrument on Business and Human Rights in Africa.

“There is no continental platform for experience sharing and technical assistance and support programmes on business and human rights across Africa while the continent still continues to experience human, and peoples’ rights violations related to business operations, ” he noted. -GNA

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