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Enterprise must embrace human rights or perish

By Stella Wangechi | Dec 11th 2021 | 2 min read

Adverse impacts may occur despite a commercial organisation’s best efforts. [Courtesy]

The operating environment for many business enterprises is fast-changing, to one guided by human rights frameworks. For some, implementing human rights standards has come from negative experiences.

Responding to such events in a responsible, proactive and progressive manner is the only correct way. Some businesses, however, continue to work oblivious of the need to mainstream human rights as part of their corporate operating pillars and strategies, and herein lies a huge risk. The uptake of human rights standards has been more prominent in countries from the global north. The uptake by countries from the global south has been relatively slow. This slow uptake has resulted in the misrepresentation and inaccurate view that justice cannot be served within judicial and non-judicial systems in countries such as Kenya.

Since the adoption of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) in 2011, only 10 African countries have developed National Action Plans to implement the principles. Kenya and Uganda have concluded and published a national plan, while Tanzania has committed to developing one.

It is evident that the capacity to protect and respect human rights in the region has not kept up with the heightened economic activity, rapid business expansion and investor interest. It is against this background that countries from East and Horn of Africa converged in a two-day regional and national dialogue.

The dialogue brought together ministries, departments, government agencies, business associations and civil society to share progress, lessons and formulate strategies for implementing the principles.

With the recent publishing of the Kenya National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights, an opportune time has arisen for businesses to follow the lead given by the government.

This is because NAP clarifies the responsibility of businesses and what is expected of them. The NAP policy is arranged through the three pillars of the UNGPs. Pillar 1 is the State duty to protect, Pillar 2 is the corporate responsibility to respect and Pillar 3 is access to remedy. 

During this dialogue, I was privileged to share perspectives on access to remedy from the lens of the development and implementation of Kakuzi’s operational grievance mechanism (OGM).

Having faced allegations related to adverse human rights impacts, Kakuzi responded by implementing the corporate responsibility to respect as outlined in the UNGPS.  Respect under UNGPs means companies should not ‘infringe on the rights of others’ and should ‘address adverse Human Rights impacts with which they are involved’.

In any business, adverse impacts may occur despite a commercial organisation’s best efforts to prevent them. It is under this understanding that Kakuzi has developed and is implementing an OGM with the name SIKIKA, meaning “to be heard”. 

-The writer is the human rights manager at Kakuzi PLC

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