The need to formulate an all-inclusive national policy to address human rights abuses in the country perpetrated by the corporate world formed the crux of discussions at a recent workshop in Lagos organised by the International Network for Corporate Social Responsibility (IN-CSR) in collaboration with the National Human Rights Commission of Nigeria (NHRC) and the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE).
At the one-day workshop, which had numerous stakeholders in attendance, the need to address the multiple concerns raised about the current draft document, the National Action Plan (NAP) on human rights and business, ranging from the issue of exclusion of some key stakeholders during the consultation process to the rate of awareness, implementation plan and adoption within the Organised Private Sector (OPS), was emphasised.
The organisers of the workshop, therefore, stated their commitment to further review the draft NAP document using an evidence-based stakeholder identification, mapping and engagement process in order to ensure that all key stakeholders’ interests are adequately provided for in the final document. The workshop, which took an overview of the impacts of business and human rights on sustainable development, societal welfare and the environment, stated that the collaboration has the goal of developing a standard NAP document that will include input from all stakeholders, for implementation.
The President of IN-CSR, Mr. Eustace Onuegbu, speaking on the sidelines of the event, said, “there are a number of businesses that don’t understand their responsibility to respect individual rights of people so what we are trying to do is to educate them that they have the responsibility, not just to pay wages, but also to respect the rights of all stakeholders; not just their employees but also customers, host communities and everyone they are involved with in the line of business directly or indirectly. There are a number of labour laws but they are not all-inclusive or comprehensive. We now need a comprehensive document that will include all stakeholders and also make businesses understand that they have a responsibility to respect people’s rights.”
Onuegbu lamented that, “even when you talk of CSR and sustainability, they look at them as voluntary,” stating that, “they are not voluntary anymore, the definitions have changed. It is now part of the process. We have moved away from shareholder interest to stakeholder interest. Businesses have to create shareholder/stakeholder values; that is what will make them sustainable over a period of time.”
Also speaking, Mr. Obinna Nwakonye, who represented the executive secretary of NHRC, ex-rayed the link between human rights and business. He explained that, “no human being can exist without business because it’s through business that human beings are sustained but if you do business without taking the import of the dictates of human rights, business will take human being away from being human into an animal.”
Nwakonye stated that, “there are some practices, in an effort to do business, that can negate the import of human existence. So this programme is to tell those who are doing business that while you’re doing business, be sure that you recognise the basic fundamental needs of human beings so that while you’re doing business, the outcome of you’re business will not run negative to the existence of human beings.”
According to him, “NAP was started long ago to create guidelines, which will be a manual for businesses in Nigeria and elsewhere. One of those guidelines is that when you are doing business, you have to be sure that people around that environment are safe, that those working for you are safe, that even you are safe. That’s the issue of corporate social responsibility we are talking about.”
He noted that when businesses make profits, people and the environment around them should be sustained, adding that mutual interest must exist between businesses, the people and the environment.
For his part, Mr. Olumide Orojimi who represented NSE said his organisation is a sustainable stock exchange that is championing Africa’s growth, adding that it does not just want to embrace sustainability but wants to also influence its ecosystem to do same.
He stressed that, “at the core of every successful business are its people and if human right is not such an important issue, I don’t think as much businesses will do well.”
Another speaker at the workshop, Justice Nelson Ogbuanya, a judge of the National Industrial Court (NIC), who called for further review of the NAP document, noted that stakeholder engagement is important in legislation.
Ogbuanya stressed that, “companies are not just there to make profit but also to see to how to help the communities where they operate.”
The well-attended workshop had in attendance various stakeholders including Dangote Group, MTN Nigeria, WEMA Bank, Flour Mills, AXA Mansard Insurance, Association of Telecommunications Commission of Nigeria (ATCON), Seplat and Organised Private Sectors (OPS), among others.