Discussion – Business and Human Rights
On April 5, The East-West Management Institute (EWMI) Advancing CSO Capacities and Engaging Society for Sustainability (ACCESS) project, Civil Development Agency (CiDA) and Ilia State University School of Law, in cooperation with EWMI Promoting Rule of Law in Georgia (PROLoG) Project organized a public discussion on the state of Business and Human Rights in Georgia.
Discussion featured invited speakers from non-governmental organizations (CiDA, Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center), one of the leading telecommunications companies in Georgia (Geocell) and the Public Defender’s Office. The discussion centered on key ways in which business affects human rights in general, and the ways in which companies can mitigate their risk of potential violations; also, external mechanisms for ensuring proper protection of human rights in business sector (the Government, the Public Defender’s Office, etc.).
According to the meeting agenda, discussion was divided in three general topics:
- Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)
Participants discussed notion of the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), its regulatory documents (UN Guidelines on Business and Human Rights) and why it is important in the business world. As for the Georgian reality, it was noted that CSR initiatives are sporadic and mainly charity-oriented, without systematic approaches aimed at solving various social issues. CiDA has been actively popularizing CSR in Georgia. Early this year CiDA became an official representative of the UN Global Compact Network Georgia and since then is urging local business companies to become the Network members and, consequently, adhere to core principles of Corporate Social Responsibility.
The Georgian government’s steps towards ensuring human rights protection in business sector was also assessed positively – owing to CSO efforts, the government included a separate chapter on business and human rights in the 20016-2017 Human Rights Action Plan. Although initial actions to be undertaken under the Action Plan are very basic and general (i.e. conducting the survey to identify a general picture of how the businesses observe human rights in Georgia), it is still a positive sign.
- Human Rights Protection Mechanisms in Businesses
Participants reviewed the Geocell’s case as a positive example. According to the Geocell representative, the company undertakes a human rights impact assessment (via specifically designed tool) on regular basis and puts the recommendations in practice; Company also evaluates potential risks and implements the risk mitigation strategies. However, other participants noted that this was an exceptional case and could not be generalized widely.
- External mechanisms for ensuring protection of human rights in the business sector
Limited competencies of Public Defender’s Office in terms of protecting rights of people working in the business sector, and dismal functions of the current Labor Inspection Department were also noted as key factors hindering proper protection of basic human rights (i.e. labor rights, health rights, environmental rights, etc.). Representative of the Public Defender’s Office spoke about the need of expanding competencies of the Labor Inspection Department (granting authority to carry out mandatory inspections), facilitate proper functioning of the tripartite commission (comprised of employers, employees and the government) as an effective mediation mechanism, and empowering the Public Defender’s Office to protect worker’s general rights in business sector as well.
Considering that current interaction between the business and human rights in Georgia is not promising (some businesses in Georgia, especially those engaged in heavy industries, fail to meet basic human rights standards resulting in the number of fatalities and injuries at workplace), and heavy industries inflict significant damage to the environment, thee above recommendations are very important to implement.
In conclusion, the parties agreed that though there are significant problems and shortages in protecting human rights in business companies in Georgia, also CSR is in a rudimentary phase, there are signs of positive developments. Discussions like these contribute to rising of public awareness about the issue and increase businesses’ commitment. Since the development of the Corporate Social Responsibility in Georgia is one of the ACCESS priorities, ACCESS will continue facilitating public discourse about this issue and support CiDA in promoting the CSR Concept.