CNVLD Chairperson Mmaskepe Sejoe gave a presentation on CSR, focusing on the CNVLD and ANZ Royal Bank,at the Australian African Business Council Investment Conference in Australia on 8th September 2009.
CNVLD Chairperson Mmaskepe Sejoe’s AAB Conference presentation is reproduced in full below.
Promotion of Human Rights through Good Corporate Citizenship
Human rights are not a new phenomenon in business, because they have a significant impact on accountability for human development. My interest is not to debate the performance of the sector, but to examine the potential value add in the protection and promotion of human rights. I am specifically interested in how business can promote:-
• Human Rights ,
• Leadership in meeting human rights expectations and
• Examples of where Good Corporate Leadership has been demonstrated
Business is experienced in ethical standards, because of the expected “trust” across all operations, particularly where there are a range of groups involved (shareholders, private and public interests etc). There is an expectation that with an evolving society, the expectations will change, so shall the standards to meet the changes.
In post-WW II human rights occupied a prominent space in public debates, but for some reason the focus was never on business or business practices until much later in the 20th century. Amazingly enough popular culture (in the form of Hollywood depictions of “white collar crime”, – Erin Brockovich and District 9), started to insinuate that there may be a shifting definition of criminal or unsavoury business practices. We started to see that business could have equally detrimental impact on societies like murderous thuggery that we have always associated with criminality. This seems to become more prominent in literature with a greater exposure to role of business and finance in positive/negative business accountability. This is where business leaders such as yourselves can act or through omission contribute to the violation of inherent rights and dignity of people often leading to “gross” violations of human rights.
You are best placed to articulate the complexities of the environment and the complex problem issues that may often lead to such human rights violations. The realization that members of the business sector can find themselves powerless in a system that deliberately inflicts sustained and untold suffering based on attitudes of “we are not moral police – we are concerned with business”. We have to take into account that the suffering generated by gross human rights violations is not limited to those whose rights we breach; it takes a little bit of our own humanity away. There are those who would argue that more often than not the “blind business leader” becomes a prisoner of his/her own blindness; he/she is never free from the business of his/her silence.
Over the past year, we have seen the change in attitude across the world on “Corporate Citizenship” and in fact over the past ten years we have seen the shift in acceptance that business/money is not value free. For example The Swiss Banks are learning that they could not possibly justify their see no evil hear no evil and protect investments at all cost. The world is happy to revise history and accuse the Swiss of having knowingly colluded with the Nazis in appropriating Jewish asserts, so in other words they were party to gross violations of human rights.
It is important to recognize that business decisions that translate as acts of omission can and do contribute to the violation of inherent rights and often leading to “gross” violations of human rights.
Could it be the conceptualizations of business and human suffering?
I will take a lot of liberty here in assuming that often the lack of recognition of business leaders as human rights advocates/protectors and promoters maybe due to the limited interpretation of the principles of business accountability. This maybe due to interpreting values in a limited sense based on “PROFIT/MARKET FORCES” conceptualization “BUSINESS” rather than a broad human development concern. There are codes of conduct that regulate all matters relating to business processes; of course, in years gone by they have not taken the bigger picture of overall human development into account. By focusing on “profit” or dare I say “RISK- TAKING/COW BOY” behaviour exclusively, there has been no room for consideration of the people involved. As such, this often impedes on the relationship between business and protection of human rights. Of course, there is a lot more expectation to look beyond profit to the consequences of violations of human rights.
It is critical that conceptualisations of business management/finance and human suffering are driven by human rights concerns. To avoid this would mean being drawn into roles of a highly politicised environment, and thus become willing and unwilling participants in human rights violations, which serve the partisan interests of the state and other actors. My limited experience with business practices tells me that the business professionals I have met are equipped to respond to suffering within a human rights context, whether this is recognised widely is highly debatable.
I’m sure each one of you could tell a story of the blurred lines, where you have known that the “company-line” could have detrimental impact on the lives of the people within and wider than the organisation. It is not for me to question or interpret professional standards or ethics, but I would assume that community expectations are drivers and may not recognise the difference between active participation in human rights violations and “standing by.”
There is a growing view that standing by in the face of human rights violations constitutes “complicity”, I chose not to render my opinion on this, as I do not understand the challenges that you face everyday in your work. But if business/finance practice does impact on the wellbeing of people, then doing nothing can be more challenging to explain to society, despite the fact that the notion of finance/business as part of the human rights discourse is relatively a recent development.
For those who are have maintained interest in human rights over the years, you will know that the Anti-Corruption initiatives have brought human rights into focus in business. On October 31st 2003, the UN General Assembly adopted the UN Convention Against Corruption, which came into force on December 14th 2005. It is worth noting that Switzerland is not a signatory.
This is just one instrument that clearly brings business practice into the realm of human rights. However, this instrument goes beyond the common expectation that business needs only consider labour and environmental provisions to be compliant of human rights expectations.
The fact that to practice as a business/corporation, there are regulatory and legislative parameters that articulate expectations, and practice standards, it is implicit that any human rights provisions would be incorporated into such standards. Of course the nature of multi-nationals makes “national values” difficult to define. While human rights provisions or state commitment to human rights is usually measured by;
lawful basis to uphold and respect rights
availability of mechanisms for redress made available by government should there be interference with the enjoyment of the rights
Positive obligations indicated by economic resources made available by government.
Human rights expectations for multi-nationals are much more fluid and present incredible challenges for human rights compliance. To address this, the UN has developed a set of principles to support business practices internationally. These are across four critical areas:
1 Human Rights
a) Principle 1: Businesses should support and respect the protection of internationally proclaimed human rights; and
b) Principle 2: make sure that they are not complicit in human rights abuses.
a) Principle 3: Businesses should uphold the freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining;
b) Principle 4: the elimination of all forms of forced and compulsory labour;
c) Principle 5: the effective abolition of child labour; and
d) Principle 6: the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation.
a) Principle 7: Businesses should support a precautionary approach to environmental challenges;
b) Principle 8: undertake initiatives to promote greater environmental responsibility; and
c) Principle 9: Encourage the development and diffusion of environmentally friendly technologies.
4 Anti Corruption
a) Principle 10: Businesses should work against corruption in all its forms, including extortion and bribery.
The critical issue here is that the intent of these principles revisits values that may have been forgotten in our “market driven” environment. For the purpose of today, I want to draw your attention to how ANZ and DEBSWANA have interpreted the UN human rights principles and showed that corporate citizenship is achievable.
To explore this I have chosen two case studies, both leaders in their respective field, mining and banking:
1. DEBSWANA – DeBeers & Botswana Government, the relationship which was described by Ex-President Mogae while he was the vise President of Botswana as
“The partnership between De Beers and Botswana has been likened to a marriage. I sometimes wonder whether a better analogy might not be that of Siamese twins.”
2. ANZ – Which is a banking leader in both Australia and South East Asia, has