Bringing the Business and Human Rights Agenda to Higher Education in Africa

Commentary, 08 April 2014

By Masha Baraza

The African Centre for Business & Human Rights (ACBHR) was launched on Friday 25th October 2013 at Strathmore Law School.

Earlier this month the European Union announced plans aimed at limiting global trade in minerals mined in conflict zones. While the goal of the new initiative is laudable, the approach being proposed – essentially a voluntary reporting scheme – is far too limiting, is out of step with emerging good practice, and could result in setting back valuable progress that has already been made in seeking to ensure responsible mineral sourcing globally.

In the last few decades, a clear shift in emphasis has been apparent within the human rights discourse in much of Africa. Attention has moved from an exclusively state-centric approach focusing on the obligation of states to promote and protect human rights towards one of greater scrutiny of abuses and violations involving business enterprises, particularly multinational corporations, and their duty to respect human rights and play an appropriate role in ensuring access to effective remedies for victims.

In Kenya, local initiatives buttressed by an increasingly robust global framework are having a noticeable impact and the wider purchase of such initiatives across the business spectrum has the potential to positively transform the business and economic environment in Kenya and the region. Nonetheless, implementing the business and human rights agenda in the region requires significant resources and the negative impacts of business-related activities remains an acute challenge.

One of the tasks now is to initiate targeted, contextual and innovative education, research and projects that progressively develop the business and human rights agenda and serve as a resource for business, government, and other stakeholders. These activities should target all levels of economic activity. They should also encourage and advocate for wider engagement with voluntary initiatives, as well as monitor and evaluate compliance and indeed foster critique towards improved, innovative and more effective initiatives that enhance sustainable and socially responsible businesses and practices. The new African Centre for Business and Human Rights (ACBHR) at the Strathmore University Law School in Nairobi seeks to contribute to this agenda; complementing and enhancing the good work being undertaken by partners across the region.

The Centre was launched at the 10th Annual Ethics Conference that was hosted at Strathmore University from the 24th to 26th of October 2013. The Ethics Conference has over the past decade provided an important forum in Africa for the promotion of a sustainable ethical culture. The Conference has addressed a wide range of issues from combating corruption and fraud in Kenya to developing ethics and value-driven leadership in emerging business and in a devolved state as well as the public/private sector interface.

The 2013 Conference provided a perfect platform from which to launch the ACBHR, which aims to serve as a research centre providing multi-disciplinary capacity building, contextual research, corporate engagement and information provision and exchange. Our Centre’s vision is to foster a business culture and create an economic environment that respects, promotes and protects human rights. As such, ACBHR is committed to becoming a leading regional and global research hub through which the complex and diverse relationships between human rights and business are critically and positively interrogated and developed across academia, policy, legislation and practice. ACBHR provides an objective forum for the development of the business and human rights discourse particularly across the rapidly and unevenly developing Global South. The Centre will be a focal point for human rights and business education, scholarship and practice across the region hosting an array of symposia, lectures, and other events bringing practitioners and scholars together through research, education and training.

Through partnerships with a range of relevant institutions and actors, ACBHR cultivates a mutually constitutive dialectic between comprehensive contextual research, business activity and human rights advocacy across its programmes and projects. The Centre seeks to develop and strengthen active and mutually beneficial partnerships with institutions, businesses, corporations and other entities and actors in the field of business and human rights, complementing their activities and promoting synergy, encouraging networking and the exchange of experience and good practices and the wide and effective dissemination of relevant material and information.

Of particular note in the ACBHR calendar in 2014 year is the inaugural Africa Conference on Business and Human Rights (Theme: ‘Localising the Global Agenda’) to be held in October 2014 in Nairobi. The Conference will draw together experts, practitioners and other local, regional and international stakeholders to discuss the progress made and challenges facing the nascent field and discourse in Africa. The Centre seeks to reach out to other institutions, academics, practitioners and students on the continent and invites all those interested to learn more about the 2014 African Business and Human Rights Conference to visit the Centre website or contact the Centre directly at [email protected]

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