“Life Before Profits”
Uganda’s investment frameworks and the proliferating human (WOMEN) rights violations
We civil society organizations working on adequate living rights, trade, investment, women’s rights, and related issues, wish to register our apprehensions for the continued violation of workers’ rights in commercial investment schemes such as factories and plantations. For the past decade, Uganda has been one of the leading country in promoting and facilitating Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in East Africa, recording a record of USD 1.3 billion in 2019 from USD 1 billion in 2018. Whereas FDIs come with many promises including job creation, we wish to take note that there are a lot of documented human (women) rights violations in the investment establishments, especially in the oil, flower, mining, and plantation sectors.
We wish to reiterate that under the UN Guiding principle on Business and Human Rights to which Uganda is a signatory, states are obliged to respect, protect and fulfill human rights of the population in all contexts thus also with regard to foreign investments.
However, in practice, Investment, especially Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs) have historically been key in the pursuit of profit maximization, often at the expense of human rights. The perceived benefits of FDIs have often come at a cost of gross human rights abuse.
Therefore, it is our perceived view that for investment to result in economic transformation, there is a need for an appropriate policy framework that is balanced in protecting the rights of investors and citizens, and in the provision of responsibilities and obligations for both the state and the investors.
This is because States tend to use investment laws and agreements including investment chapters in trade agreements as one of the tools to create an investment-friendly environment. However, a closer analysis of their provisions reveals that these legal frameworks and agreements are silent on the citizen’s (employees’) human rights vis a vis investors’ rights.
Within some of Uganda’s large investments, human rights violations are both intense and extensive. Findings from a recent report published by Southern and Eastern Africa Trade Information and Negotiations Institute (SEATINI) Uganda and Urgent Action Fund reveals that workers, especially women are adversely affected by human rights violations ranging from land grabbing, spending all day with no meal but one cup of porridge a day once in a while regardless of the backbreaking workload, exposure to dangerous chemicals, burns and irritations on the skin and nose during course of their employment in the investment schemes due to lack of appropriate protective gears; very heavy workload involving carrying up to 1,200 kilograms of load a day, whether by a woman or a man; no maternity leave; no annual leave, violation of adequate living rights including housing four or more families in very small rooms, forced cohabitation, among others. These violations occur in some of the country’s most productive and profitable value chains in which high-value products on massive demand are produced. Such products include; sugar, palm oil, flowers, cigarettes and cigars, tea, textiles, steel bars, among others.
. It is our considered view that this situation has been proliferated and aggravated by the existence and absence of appropriate legal frameworks to ensure the protection of citizens against business-related human rights violations.
We note specifically, that the Investment Code Act, 2019, despite recently being amended does not provide for a requirement for Human Rights Impact assessments to be undertaken by investors prior to and during the implementation of investment projects.
The Occupational Safety and Health Act, 2006 puts workers in an untenable situation when it includes an exception on the basis of which employers can relegate the responsibility for the provision of personal protective equipment to the employees. Uganda has signed a number of Bilateral Investment Treaties (BITs), of which 6 of the treaties are in force. 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 they have committed to violating the rights of people.
In March 2020 Centre for Food and Adequate Living Rights (CEFROHT) and SEATINI Uganda filed a case in the high court, civil division against the government of Uganda for their failure to protect the rights and dignity of female workers against business-related human rights violations, In response, the Uganda Investment Authority (UIA) on behalf of the government submitted an affidavit indicating that indeed the country’s investment laws do not include human rights provisions.
As Uganda joins the rest of the world to commemorate International Women’s Day, we wish to amplify the voices of women workers in factories, and plantation-based investments for better working conditions, SEATINI Uganda, CEFROHT, in partnership with Both ENDS wish to call upon the Government of Uganda to prioritize the right to dignity and livelihood of women working in these investment schemes.
It is our petition, therefore, that the Government of Uganda:
- Investigates the situation of workers in commercial investment schemes such as factories, flower farms, and plantation investments with a view to give redress for the affected persons.
- Acts to amend the Investment Code Act, the Employment Act, and the Occupation Health and Safety Act to protect people’s right to dignity and livelihood
- Reviews and terminates all Bilateral Investment Treaties (BITs) that do not balance between protection of the rights to dignity and livelihood of Ugandans and investment.
- Directs all investments to take up the responsibility of providing workers, both casual and staff workers with proper and adequate personal protective gears for protection against the exposure to various injuries during their work; and against the spread of COVID-19