CEFROHT is promoting adequate living rights for everyone and one of the sectors where such rights are critically in danger are the big investment schemes. CEFROHT has joined with other Civil Society Organizations to seek justice for women and other vulnerable persons working in palm oil plantations, sugarcane and other investment schemes.
Investment, especially Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) have historically been key in the pursuit of economic development. This is because increased investment opportunities are assumed to incentivize an increase in production and productivity which are central to facilitating increased domestic production and productivity, employment creation and inclusive development. But for investment to result into economic transformation there is need for an appropriate policy framework which 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.
Generally, investment policy making and implementation processes involve a small range of government ministries, departments and agencies, although it affects a wide range of stakeholders. These processes are often influenced by different players with different power dynamics including
corporations; influential institutions and powerful countries like the World Bank, European Unions, United States; business lobbyists, and select groups of individuals with connection to government.
Although largely affected by any adverse outcomes of the policy making and or implementation processes, trade unions, workers, farmers, communities, and consumers, among others, especially are seldom involved or consulted. Yet the level and quality of participation by these key stakeholders has a direct bearing on the extent to which given investments will deliver on the anticipated development promises. The intention for investment policy frameworks, whether investment agreements, laws or
policies is vested within the solo interest to attract, promote and protect investment. These frameworks ae anchored within the notions of the Structural Adjustment Programs of Privatization, Deregulation and Liberalization. They extend excessive protection to investors rights and interests,even at the expense of human rights.
For more than “20 years, ‘human rights’ and ‘business’ were very rarely used in the same sentence. Human Rights were the business of Governments while companies just had to mind their own business.” The rise of the human rights era was mainly anchored around the State, both as the main protector of human rights but also a major violator. It was driven by the State obligation not only to protect and respect human rights, but also to ensure that non-state actors including business entities, respect all human rights.
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, as shown in numerous instances including during the COVID-19, investment legal frameworks can also constrain the legal or policy space available to States to regulate the conduct of investors. They may create a regulatory chill and in turn discourage states to take domestic measures to fulfil their international human rights obligations. Moreover, investment agreements, such as those Uganda is party to can impact affected communities’ right to seek effective remedies against investors for project-related human rights abuses. For these and other reasons, Principle 9 of the UNGPs reminds States to “maintain adequate domestic policy space to meet their human rights obligations when pursuing business-related policy objectives with other States or business enterprises, for instance through national investment laws and investment treaties or contracts.”
Nonetheless, within some of Uganda’s large investments, human rights violations are both intense and extensive. Meanwhile, they range from land grabbing, exposure to chemicals, burns and irritations on the skin and nose due to lack of appropriate protective gears; very low wages as low as 50,000
Uganda shillings per month; very heavy work load, involving carrying up to 1,200 kilograms of load a day, whether by a woman or a man; no maternity leave; no annual leave; and a high levels of job insecurity, among others. Within majority of Uganda’s investments, labour casualization is being
promoted. 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. In addition, reports by Witness Radio have put to the public, information about the many evictions involving commercial investment schemes around the country.
Reports documented indicate that a company in place like
Kiryandongo ring-fenced a community borehole at Ndoyo village which had been serving over 150 families and blocked community members from accessing the water source. During the lock down 35,000 people that were being dispossessed by three multinational companies to give way for
agribusinesses, filed certificates of emergency at Masindi High court demanding that court should use its powers to stop unlawful, forceful and violent evictions. Violence ranging from filling water sources for communities with soil, kidnap, torture, intimidation, illegal arrest and detention to property destruction among others have also been orchestrated by many companies.
In order to harness investment policies, laws and agreements to prevent human rights abuses, a lot of changes must be made, particularly with the aim of balancing between the protection of the rights and obligations of corporations. A number of problematic provisions within investment agreements that Uganda has signed, and the Investment Code Act, 2019 which undermine human rights protection and yet grant excessive rights protection to investors must be removed or, safeguards and exceptions
must specifically be included with a view to ensure businesses respect and protect human rights.
It is against this background that Centre for Food and Adequate Living Rights, (CEFROHT) together with SEATINI Uganda, the Uganda Consortium for Corporate Accountability (UCCA), Witness Radio, Platform for Labour Action (PLA) convened a National Televised conference under the theme “Harnessing Uganda’s investment laws, policies and agreements to prevent business related human rights violations”.