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17 Sep 2014

Business & human rights in Africa: Time for a responsibility revolution

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A regional overview

This overview was prepared for the United Nations' first regional forum on business & human rights in Africa, 16-18 September 2014 in Addis Ababa, and submitted to the UN Working Group on business & human rights.

Investment in Africa is booming.  Citizens are increasingly confident to demand accountability from their leaders, and from companies that they work for, buy from, supply, and live near, in their communities.  The number of people in poverty is declining; more children are in school and fewer children are dying before the age of five.  But the huge potential for advances in human rights will not be realised with business as usual.  Hunger and illness; exclusion of certain ethnic groups, women and LGBT people; lack of transparency and accountability; insecurity and violent conflict continue to plague many African countries – including some that are most successful at attracting investment.  Transforming the business model to integrate respect for basic rights throughout companies’ practices will drive more inclusive growth so business will contribute decisively to improving people’s lives and avoid involvement in abuses.  The time therefore could not be riper for the United Nations’ first-ever Africa Regional Forum on Business and Human Rights, being held 16-18 September in Addis Ababa.

In this briefing, we analyse 429 approaches to companies regarding their human rights impacts in Africa.  In over 50% of the responses, companies offered only general responses rather than specifically addressing the concerns.  66% denied the claims, rather than acknowledging them in whole or in part, or committing to investigate them.  Overall, very few companies committed to changing their conduct, only doing so in 9% of the responses that we obtained.  One exception: Unilever committed to improving its policies and practices three out of four times that we invited it to respond.  Since 2011, only 4% of responses we have received referred to the UN Guiding Principles.  

Key issues: 

  • New investments in oil & gas and agriculture: Opportunities and risks.  
  • Digital revolution in Africa: Freedom of information or tool of oppression?
  • Mining, oil & gas: The troubling history of the “resource curse”, unresolved
  • Promising initiatives & the need for action

[Executive summary in French available here]