Land, Water and Food: Advancing Human Rights Due Diligence

Commentary, 28 February 2011

By Wambui Kimathi, Senior Advisor to the Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Irrigation, Government of Kenya

It is hoped the Naivasha discussions will inform IHRB’s on-going work to develop clear guidance for all actors on human rights issues.

Earlier this month, the Institute for Human Rights and Business (IHRB) in partnership with the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) brought together representatives from governments, National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) (Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi, South Africa and Kenya) business, civil society organizations, researchers, and professional association representatives for a two-day event seeking to provide greater clarity around the human rights responsibilities of the private sector on issues relating to land, water and food.

The event was held in Kenya’s Naivasha Town and was the latest in a series of regional convenings that IHRB has involved the KNCHR in, which have greatly contributed to furthering conceptual thinking and possible strategies for companies and other actors seeking to address major human rights challenges linked to land, water and food security.

The partnership has been invaluable in enabling the KNCHR to draw in both business and state actors in pursuing our own plans for concrete policy and regulatory actions that can be taken to manage the challenges related to business use and utilization of land and water. Kenya has in the past faced political violence linked to land ownership, acquisition and use and also continues to experience problems associated with lack of access to water which have, among other negative impacts, raised serious concerns relating to food security.

The Naivasha convening contributed to clear analysis and fresh ideas relating to business and human rights around which new programmatic interventions might be developed. This is especially so for Kenya which is currently going through extensive legal and policy reforms following the passage of its new constitution in August 2010.

Representatives of other NHRIs who participated in the convening found the discussion to be a useful capacity building forum which will help them position their own institutions in determining how best to take forward the Edinburgh Declaration on Business and Human Rights adopted last October at the biannual meeting of NHRIs from around the world held in Scotland as well as the UN ‘Protect, Respect, Remedy’ Framework on business and human rights, which outlines clear roles for NHRIs in this area.

Speaking from the perspective of someone working to advance respect for human rights in Kenya, the development of greater multi-stakeholder partnerships, not only involving the KNCHR, but also with active participation from business and particular regulatory government agencies would be of immense value as the country’s current Companies Act, as well as various regulatory policies, are being revised to reflect the constitutional requirement that the Bill of Rights binds not only natural persons but also companies and associations.

The Naivasha discussion and the comments of participating business representatives, including multinational firms and local industry associations, highlighted the need and desire for such partnerships, such as through further dialogue and training aimed at senior management and members respectively on issues of business responsibility for human rights. It is hoped the Naivasha discussions will inform IHRB’s on-going work to develop clear guidance for all actors on human rights issues.

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