26 years since South Africa’s Constitution came into effect, our collective scorecard as a country is a mixed bag of achievements and shortcomings. This was the tone at The Compact Dialogues on Human Rights, a virtual business reflection hosted by the Global Compact Network South Africa on Friday 31 March 2023. The session aimed to shed light on the current state of human rights in South Africa and discuss opportunities and challenges for business in respecting and advancing human rights.
Facilitated by Dr Achieng Ojwang the Executive Director of GCNSA, panellists included Rabbi Gideon from the Centre of Business Ethics at the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS), Adv. Tseliso Thipanyane, former CEO of the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) and Ms Lindokuhle Khuzwayo the strategic Engagement Principal at Anglo Platinum.
Rabbi Gideon Pogrund explored the ethical foundation of South Africa and the ethical issues and challenges faced by different business sectors. He said that “Previous injustices in South Africa and historic injustices continue to create or escalate current injustices, hence there is a need to address the past as explicitly mentioned in the preamble of the constitution as “the need to recognise the injustices of our past”. He also indicated the protection of whistleblowing and the adoption of the values and ethics underpinning the Constitution as blueprints for realising socio-economic freedom.
Adv. Tseliso Thipanyane, discussed the interface between business and constitutionalism in the country’s past, present, and future. “We live in a country where we have high levels of poverty, unemployment and inequalities and certainly we cannot exclude or excuse the role of businesses in the current dispensation.” He indicated that it has been a mixed bag for business as many have done a lot to respect and advance human rights. At the same time, several companies have also been responsible for massive human rights violations in the country. Thipanyane further reflected on the need for business to respect and protect human rights while pursuing their commercial interests.
Ms Lindokuhle Khuzwayo, shared Anglo Platinum’s human rights journey and how they plan to go beyond compliance to embed human rights within the company. She emphasised the importance of human rights in creating a sustainable business model, the crucial importance of regularly evaluating policies to align them with the desired objectives and for companies to move from compliance to a values-based approach to business and ensure their approach is appropriate for the local context where they operate.
“A value-based approach to business where respect for human rights is integrated into the companies core values and culture is essential if we want to actually create a world where businesses operate in a more socially introspective and more of a socially responsible manner,” said Khuzwayo.
The speakers identified areas for improvement including better access to quality education and healthcare, lower levels of inequality and combating discrimination. A participant suggested a more enhanced collaboration in South Africa and meaningful dialogue on human rights and a social compact, led by a trusted independent organisation.
The event concluded with a discussion of best practises and lessons learned for the private sector to ensure they respect and protect human rights while conducting their business activities.
The GCNSA calls on all businesses in South Africa to partner with the organisation in advancing and promoting business and human rights in the country. By identifying salient human rights impacts, establishing an ongoing due diligence process and developing an actionable plan, your company can be capacitated in its human rights journey and effectively improve its footprint in accordance with the Constitution. In particular, we invite corporates to join our Business and Human Rights (BHR) Accelerator Programme to access your company’s actual or potential adverse human rights impacts, integrating findings across processes and communicating how impacts are currently being addressed. Significantly, we further offer an opportunity to companies to build a network of peers, partners and experts to support your human rights journey.
Learn more about human rights by visiting the link below: https://globalcompactsa.org.za/programmes/human-rights-in-business/