Latest news

Responding department: N/A

Note: This questionnaire was completed by South Africa's National Human Rights Institution, the South African Human Rights Commission.

Has your government taken any initiatives to reduce companies’ negative impacts on human rights that you consider particularly successful?

Each year, the SAHRC [South African Human Rights Commission] adopts a particular theme relating to human rights as its strategic focus area. During the 2014/2015 period, the focus area for the SAHRC was business and human rights.  Over this year, the SAHRC hosted various roundtable discussions around business and human rights at a national and provincial level. The aim of these discussions was to create awareness around the issue of business and human rights, and the associated implications for business, individuals and communities in South Africa. There was also a need to the identify possible interventions that the SAHRC could undertake to address issues relating to business and human rights in the future, and many of the discussions assisted in this identification process.

It has been highlighted through these roundtable discussions and other SAHRC and external interventions, that there is general lack of awareness what the notion of Business and Human Rights means and entails. It is evident that communities and organisations are unaware that non-state actors have any obligations in respect of human rights, despite the existence of international frameworks and the liberal regional and national laws that are in place.

As such, the Commission has identified that there is a need for a comprehension overview of the status of human rights and business in South Africa, concentrating on developments over the past decade. In order to substantiate this premise and to develop on from the findings of the SAHRC Roundtables on Business and Human Rights, the Commission is in the process of drafting a report on the topic which it hopes to share widely and engender further engagements on the Commissions’ priorities going forward in this area. The report will not be limited to examining legislation, but also international instruments, such as the Ruggie Principles on Business and Human Rights, as well as soft law and jurisprudence that is specific to South Africa, but that relates to South Africa and the broader region.

Other actions

The Chairperson, Advocate Lawrence M Mushwana, hosted a 2 day workshop on Business and Human Rights on issues of affecting non-nationals on the 8 and 9 December 2014, in conjunction with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights at the United Nations. At this time, the report of this workshop is yet to be published.

Commissioner Lindiwe Mokate gave a presentation at a meeting of the UN African Regional Forum on Business and Human Rights on “How National Human Rights Institutions can protect Human Rights Defenders in Business and Human Rights”, in Ethiopia in September 2014.

In her presentation, the Commissioner examined the role of human rights defenders and the precarious position human rights defenders found themselves in, when faced with business (entities). The Commission highlighted the role of National Human Rights Institutions, namely: to protect human rights violations in business; and to protect human rights defenders in business. Human rights defenders find themselves in non-profit organisations, trade unions, media groups and other public forums. Through their engagements, they place themselves at risk ranging from physical assault and extrajudicial executions; intimidation; harassment and the absence of legal representation when they need it.

The Commissioner also highlighted case studies where business and human rights were explored by the South African Human Rights Commission. These include: representation of public interest, research on causes of human rights violations and monitoring the Commission of Enquiry regarding the Marikana Platinum Mine atrocity of August 2012; submissions to the President of South Africa and Parliament on the impact of human rights on media practitioners and whistle blowers; and ensuring compliance with human rights where children are concerned regarding the delivery of learning material, through conducting public hearings.