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2 Jul 2023

Boaventura Monjane, Anesu Dera, Daily Maverick (SA)

Corporate human rights abuses can be curbed across Africa with buy-in from governments to honour the UN treaty


At the African Regional Indaba [on the UN Binding Treaty on Transnational Corporations and Human Rights] last week, community members learnt about the current status of negotiations and got to know the content of drafts of the binding treaty, so as to better articulate demands to be made to the continent’s governments. The Indaba, attended by more than a hundred people from nearly 20 countries, adopted a resolution to be handed over to African governments as a basis for negotiating a strong, people-led, pro-poor binding treaty.

The UN binding treaty on transnational corporations and human rights is of immense importance to communities, workers, and the environment in Southern Africa. This treaty aims to address the power imbalance between transnational corporations (TNCs) and affected communities by establishing international legal obligations to protect human rights and hold corporations accountable for their actions.

In Southern Africa, communities are often the ones who suffer as a result of the activities of transnational corporations, particularly in extractive industries such as mining. Often marginalised and lacking adequate legal protection, these communities face numerous human rights abuses, including forced displacement, land grabbing, and environmental degradation...

In addition, the treaty’s focus on extraterritorial obligations is critical for Southern Africa and Africa. TNCs often operate across borders, making it difficult for affected communities to seek justice within their own national legal frameworks. The binding treaty can provide a framework for cross-border cooperation and redress that ensures affected communities have access to justice and can hold TNCs accountable regardless of their home country...

In Southern Africa, only South Africa and Namibia are actively participating in the negotiations. Mozambique and Botswana have spoken out in the past but have gone quiet in recent years. Zambia and Malawi are occasionally present, but without raising their voices in the negotiations. 

These and other countries in the SADC region should also prioritise the process, as the binding treaty will play an important role in exercising our sovereignty over corporate power and corporate impunity. 

During the last treaty negotiations, the same disagreements that featured in previous sessions and discussions on the treaty appeared, with countries from the Global North trying to dilute the text of the treaty as much as possible...

Given the above, power dynamics and presence in the negotiation room are vital to what is incorporated in the treaty text. As a result, governments in Southern Africa have a unique opportunity to join South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, and Mozambique in pushing for a strong, binding treaty that protects citizens’ human rights and the environment while taking control of their resources, most of which are in the hands of transnational corporations...

As such, one would rather hope to see more of a united front from the Global South, especially Southern African States, as these countries are largely affected by business activities given the extractive nature of their economies.