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NewsEthiopia turns blind eye to corporate human rights violations, study

Ethiopia turns blind eye to corporate human rights violations, study

  –  No consultation to introduce provision against human rights violations by businesses

  Kenya and Uganda are the only African countries with national action plans for human rights and business

Ethiopia is among countries where there is no legal provision that requires multinational corporations (MNCs) to respect international human rights rules when they do business in host nations, a new study reveals. The country neither has a constitutional provision nor a national action plan for business and human rights, as authorities turn a blind eye to the issue in favor of investment.

Commissioned by Fredrich Ebert Stiftung, the study was undertaken in the last three years to examine the status of adaptation and implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights as well as analyze the state of human rights breaches by corporates in Africa. The study was launched this week during the African Union Forum on Business and Human Rights held in Accra, Ghana.

The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission does not have any programs on business and human rights in Ethiopia, the study said, adding, “There has been no consultative forum to consider the implementation of business and human rights on the continent,” ever since the United Nations Working Group on the Issue of Human Rights and Transnational Corporations and other business enterprises held eight years ago.

“Ethiopia is one of the African countries where the issue of business and human rights is almost completely ignored, despite reports indicating that there have been some forms of human rights violations in the coffee and tea sector,” Oyenyi Abe, the lead researcher of the study and a scholar based in the UK, told The Reporter.

Business and human rights challenges are widespread across sectors in Ethiopia.

Among the major violations that have received public attention in the last decade are the denial of compensation for victims of occupational hazards in tanneries and construction sites, underpaying of workers in garment factories, and the abuse of low-paid guards hired by security agencies for financial institutions and different organizations, including embassies and multinational companies.

Environmental pollution by mining companies and multinational firms in the beverage sector is also among businesses where human rights violations have been exposed thus far.

“It is undeniable that the issue never received any attention in Ethiopia. In fact, it is also an emerging discipline across the world, with our being no exception,” said Mizane Abate (PhD), head of the department formed for economic issues with respect to human rights at the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC).

Mizane, who attended the African Business and Human Rights Forum in Accra, added that his institution understands the importance of putting mechanisms in place to prevent human rights violations in the business sector.

“The department, which I am leading, was established a year ago with the goal of addressing human rights issues relating to businesses, among others,” said Mizane, who is a professor of human rights at the Addis Ababa University School of Law.

Currently, the African Union is in the process of adopting a policy framework on business and human rights. AU member states, including Ethiopia, are expected to implement it by introducing their own national action plans. So far, Kenya and Uganda are the only countries that have succeeded in developing a national action plan for business and human rights.

“I believe Ethiopia should do the same, although the mandate to do so falls under the Ministry of Justice, which should consider adopting the action plan,” remarked Mizane, adding, “we have seen investments by foreign companies and locals flowing throughout the country, but this was supposed to be implemented with mechanisms to prevent possible human rights breaches.”

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