BACKGROUND OF THE CASE
The CEFROHT and SEATINI are Non-Government Organizations bringing this public interest cause on behalf of female employees in commercial investment schemes.
The Government of Uganda is currently implementing a public-private partnership with vegetable oil development projects in partnership with BIDCO and WILMAR as Oil Palm Uganda Limited (OPUL) among other commercial investment schemes in Uganda in several sectors to which Uganda has signed a number of bilateral investment treaties.
The Investment Code Act, 2019, which is the principal law regulating investment schemes does not provide for a requirement to conduct Human Rights Impact assessments by investors prior to and during the implementation of investment projects. The Occupation Health and Safety Act put an obligation on the employer to provide protective gear but this has not been implementing in some workplaces. Uganda has signed a number of Bilateral Investment Treaties (BITs), 6 of which. The treaties focus on protecting the rights of investors at the expense of citizens. As such, investors have not been held accountable for the acts of violating the rights of workers.
Our interactions with the present and former workers in investment schemes, revealed that workers are not given adequate food, many times go all day doing hard labor but without a meal, those that are given some food like posho and beans reported that this food is rotten most times and unsafe for human consumption, women were found to be adversely affected by the lack of appropriate personal protective gears which exposes them to chemicals that burn and irritate their skin and nose, very low wages as low as 4,400 Uganda shillings per week; very heavy workload involving carrying up to 1,200 kilograms of load a day; denial of paid maternity and annual leave.
SUMMARY OF FACTS
Although CEFROHT is a national organization, specific districts have specific requirements. CEFROHT concluded a Memorandum of understanding with the districts of Kiboga and Kyankwanzi to partner in food security and nutrition. They allowed CEFROTH to mobilize and form Community food and agriculture Advocates. These are allowed into local government councils as a small scale farmers’ voice.
CEFROHT and SEATINI were approached by a group of women working and former workers in the investment schemes reporting gross human rights violations that are happening in these schemes. The workers are not provided with adequate food, and those that are given some food that is a cup of porridge at 3 pm in some plantations and for others 3kilograms of beans and 10kilgroms posho each month, reported that in most cases the maize floor and bean are rotten and bad for human consumption.
The women are not given maternity, sick or annual leave if one does not report to work due to sickness of after giving birth their employment is terminated; they also work under very harsh conditions like forcefully working under the rain, they carry about 1200kilograms of fertilizer in a day with no sufficient protective gear thus putting their health and lives at risk. One of the women has scars on her legs, feet, and hands as a result of burns from the said chemical used as fertilizer, rotten feet because of stepping in waterlogged places all the time with no gam-boots. There were reported cases of forced cohabitation whereby men are lined up on assembly and a woman has to choose a man with whom to cohabit. The housing conditions are very poor as employers put about 4families in one small room to stay together.
It is on this background that the two civil society organizations have gone to court with a public interest case to seek redress on behalf of the women workers in investment schemes and asking the court for the following orders.
- An order that the respondent amends the Investment Code Act 2019 to include the protection of human rights, requirements for social impact assessment, human rights due diligence, performance requirement measures, and the right of the state to monitor and regulate investments in the public interest.
- An order that the respondent reviews Uganda’s bilateral investment treaties to include performance requirement measures, human rights due diligence, social impact assessment, and the right of the state to monitor and regulate investments in the public interest.
- An order that the respondent amends Section 12 of the Investment Code Act 2019 to provide for periodic monitoring and evaluation of tax incentives.
CURRENT CASE STATUS
We filed the case on the 6th day of March 2020 and served the Attorney general with the pleading and a hearing notice, the case will be coming up for hearing on the 7th day of September 2020 at 9:00 AM in the High Court of Uganda (Civil Division) at Kampala