The National Human Rights and Business Conference

Monday, 17 March, 2008 - 08:10

By Hilary Hove, AICCBusiness activity can have a powerful impact on development. As catalysts of economic growth, businesses contribute both directly and indirectly to the generation of sustainable li

By Hilary Hove, AICC

Business activity can have a powerful impact on development. As catalysts of economic growth, businesses contribute both directly and indirectly to the generation of sustainable livelihoods. While businesses are often targeted for the adverse impacts of their operations, public and non-profit actors are increasingly focusing on the positive aspects of business activity. To this end, the private sector is increasingly regarded as a community stakeholder - a partner in development.

Business as a Partner in Development

A variety of terms and concepts are employed to describe this emerging view of business. Corporate social responsibility, corporate citizenship, and corporate social investment are all regularly referenced in boardrooms, government, and the non- profit world to describe the acknowledgement of business´ wider role in society.

Although some may question the authenticity or rationale of these initiatives, one thing is certain: expectations of business conduct have changed, and with it their strategic focus.

Since 2001, the African Institute of Corporate Citizenship (AICC) has worked to address these issues by promoting sustainable business practice in Africa. By engaging a variety of stakeholders, AICC champions the view that business can play a positive role in development on the continent. AICC runs a variety of multi- stakeholder programmes to further facilitate and advance the collaboration necessary to take this vision forward.

One such programme is the Human Rights and Business Project South Africa (HRBPSA), a forum convened by the AICC to mainstream human rights into the operations of businesses. Partnering with the South African Human Rights Commission and the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, AICC is hosting a national conference, "The Human Rights and Business Conference 2008: Business, Development and Poverty, from 18-19 March 2008 at the Nedbank Sandton Convention centre.

The aim of the conference is to convene a wide variety of development stakeholders to discuss the significance of business in promoting and protecting human rights in South Africa. Businesses affect human rights through their employment practices, stakeholder engagement processes, supply-chain management, and many other avenues. It is important to acknowledge each of these linkages and to discuss the ways that business may strengthen their procedures, policies and performance in respect of human rights.

At the conference, AICC will launch a key outcome of the HRBPSA, the Human Rights Compliance Assessment South Africa (HRCA-SA) - "Masizibheke: let’s look at ourselves". The document is a voluntary self-assessment tool that aids businesses in improving their performance on human rights within their sphere of influence. It addresses the entire range of business influence on human rights issues within a South African and international context, providing a useful and crucial tool for businesses.

A number of interactive sessions will be held at the conference on each of the following topics

  • Business as community stakeholders: the role of business in the promotion of human rights, development and poverty eradication
  • Integrating business and human rights: exploring legal implications
  • Corporate reporting and the business case for human rights
  • Human rights in the workplace
  • The role of banking in the promotion of human rights and development
  • Multi-stakeholder engagement: working together to promote human rights
  • Corporate governance and human rights
  • Practitioners master class - use of the Human Rights Compliance Assessment
  • BEE: the role of business in empowerment
  • Responsible investment as a catalyst for promoting human rights and development

Through participation in this event, delegates will walk away with a stronger understanding of the role of business in promoting and securing human rights, development and poverty eradication. In addition, the constructive environment of the conference will allow diverse development stakeholders to form partnerships and engage in productive dialogue on issues of mutual concern. Overall, the conference partners aim to create an arena whereby discussions concerning business´ wider role in society may take place.

For further information, or to register for the conference, click here.

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