OHCHR Uganda is supporting the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development and partners in the preparation of a National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights, where environment and land issues have been identified as priority areas. The draft is being finalized and is expected to be submitted shortly to the Ministry’s senior leadership. The National Action Plan comes at a crucial time, as Uganda is embarking on its third National Development Plan which focuses on economic growth through industrialisation.
In 2016, the Government of Uganda accepted recommendations under the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) to develop a National Action Plan (NAP) on Business and Human Rights. OHCHR Uganda has been pleased to support the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Human Rights and other partners, including the Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) and the Equal Opportunities Commission, in advancing on this goal.
Considerations related to business and human rights are also reflected in the Third National Development Plan (NDPIII) under Uganda’s Vision 2040, which is soon to be launched by the Government of Uganda. The NDP III (will be made available here) focuses on economic growth through industrialization, private sector engagement and exploitation of natural resources, including oil and other extractives. OHCHR Uganda welcomes that the NDP III sets out as one of its objectives under the Governance and Security Programme to adopt the NAP on BHR. This reflects the commitment by the Government of Uganda to harness the positive contributions of businesses while ensuring that potential negative impacts are prevented and addressed. Furthermore, the overall commitment expressed in the NDP III to continue applying a human rights-based approach as a programming principle is key in advancing sustainable development guided by human rights obligations in Uganda.
Under the leadership by the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development, significant progress has been made in developing the draft NAP. Regular meetings to discuss the draft were held by the NAP resource group, comprised of the MGLSD, the Office of the President, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the UHRC, the EOC, the UN Global Compact Uganda chapter and CSOs (including the Initiative for Social and Economic Rights, the Uganda Consortium for Corporate Accountability and FIDA-Uganda, an organisation of women’s rights lawyers), supported by OHCHR.
In order to inform the prioritization of issues to be reflected in the NAP, OHCHR and partners organized a series of regional consultations across the country. The consultations brought together representatives from local government, business actors, community leaders, cultural and religious leaders as well as civil society organisations. Participants reflected on key human rights challenges resulting from existing business operations, prevailing gaps in the regulation of business activities and appropriate measures to be prioritized in the NAP to address these challenges. Issues of concern identified by participants included environmental pollution, low remuneration for workers, and absence of contracts, child labour, human rights violations in connection with the externalization of labour, sexual exploitation and gender-based violence, land conflicts and forced evictions. The consultations brought out that there is a general lack of awareness among rights-holders of their human rights, as well as limited avenues for redress in case of human rights violations and abuses.
OHCHR also supported the UHRC in holding a consultative meeting with business entities and trade union leaders to inform the NAP. The meeting was an opportunity to share findings from the regional consultations. Participants shared their views on issues that require attention in the NAP, and called for effective implementation of existing laws, such as the Employment Act, and to address corruption, amongst other issues.
The discussions took place against the backdrop of the increasing number of land conflicts resulting from business activities, including through national and foreign investments. The land conflicts significantly affect local communities, including through forced evictions, in particular in connection with extractive industries and plantations in Northern Uganda, Rwenzori, Albertine and in Karamoja sub-region, as well as in Mubende and Kyriandongo districts. Land and environmental rights defenders have been subjected to harassment and intimidation, including in some cases arbitrary detention by law enforcement agencies.
Drawing on the findings of the consultations and the realities on the ground, the draft NAP outlines eight thematic areas: Land and Natural resources, Environmental concerns, Labour rights; Revenue Transparency, Tax Exemptions and Corruption, Social service delivery by private actors, Consumer protection, Access to remedy; and Women, vulnerable and marginalised groups. The draft is in the process of finalization and is expected to be submitted to the MGLSD senior leadership in the next few months.
The commitment by many of OHCHR Uganda’s partners, as well as the concerted engagement with a wide range of actors, has increased the awareness regarding the linkages between business and human rights. As a result, there is increasing recognition that the existing legal and policy framework is insufficient to prevent and address the negative impact of business enterprises on human rights. The NAP on BHR will provide an important step forward to address current challenges and prevent future issues, its effective implementation will create human rights responsive engagement by all relevant stakeholders as Uganda is seeking to advance on its path to development for all.
In adopting the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development, Uganda as part of the international community “committed to making fundamental changes in the way that our societies produce and consume goods and services”, and recognized that “private business activity, investment and innovation are major drivers of productivity, inclusive economic growth and job creation”. The Member States further committed to “foster a dynamic and well-functioning business sector, while protecting labour rights and environmental and health standards in accordance with relevant international standards and agreements and other ongoing initiatives in this regard, such as the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the labour standards of the International Labour Organization, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and key multilateral environmental agreements, for parties to those agreements”.
The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights – Protect Respect and Remedy, endorsed by the UN Human Rights Council in 2011, provide important policy guidance and seek to enhance standards and practices with regard to business and human rights so as to achieve tangible results for individuals and communities. The UN Guiding Principles are grounded in recognition of (a) States’ existing obligations to respect, protect and fulfil human rights and fundamental freedoms; (b) the role of business enterprises as specialized organs of society performing specialized functions, required to comply with all applicable laws and to respect human rights; and (c) the need for rights and obligations to be matched to appropriate and effective remedies when breached. The framework clarified the State duty to protect against business-related human rights abuse, the responsibility of companies to respect human rights, and the need to strengthen access to appropriate and effective remedies for victims of business-related human rights abuse. The Guiding Principles recommend the adoption of a National Action Plan.
The NAP on Business and Human Rights under preparation in Uganda is a key tool in providing guidance to the State and non-State actors on the requirement that all business operations are to be conducted in line with human rights standards so as to contribute to positive human rights outcomes, including the creation of decent jobs, provision of health and other services, protection of the environment, and contributing to the advancement of equality by providing opportunities for marginalized groups.