Business and human rights refers to the private sector’s respect or otherwise for universal human rights. While it is important to understand that businesses are capable of violating all human rights and that they must therefore ensure that all human rights are respected in their operations, some human rights are of more relevance to businesses. They include: the right to freedom of assembly and association; the right to freedom of expression; the abolition of slavery and forced labor; the abolition of child labor; the right to equal pay for equal work; the right to equality at work; the right to non-discrimination; the right to just and favorable remuneration; and the right of indigenous peoples to possession of ancestral lands and resources.
CCHR is expanding its Business and Human Rights (BHR) Project to incorporate engagement and advocacy with companies involved in land conflicts, in addition to engagement and advocacy with garment factories and companies purchasing from the garment industry in Cambodia. This revamped BHR Project will focus on targeted advocacy with companies, factories and brands most related to where human rights abuses are taking place: companies holding economic land concessions that have had particularly drastic impacts on the communities, factories where strikes and working conditions are particularly problematic, and brands related to those factories who are failing to adhere to human rights principles.
The BHR Project is grounded in the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (the GPs) and advocacy activities will be focused on ensuring that the business sector actors with which the BHR Project engages incorporate and respect the GPs – as well as international and domestic laws and human right standards – in their every-day operations.
The business sector is plagued with a myriad of human rights concerns, in particular the garment industry, a key pillar of Cambodia’s economy. There are approximately 558 garment factories operating in Cambodia, employing over 475,000 people; they are reported as regularly disregarding fire safety mechanisms and health and safety standards, ignoring legal overtime policies and even employing child labor. Although on 31 December 2013, the Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC) agreed to increase the minimum wage to $100 a month, with the addition of $5 for healthcare benefits, the minimum wage for garment factory workers remains insufficient for workers to cover basic expenses, which contributes to poor health and other human rights concerns.
Meanwhile, violations and abuses of land rights are the most prevalent violations of human rights occurring in Cambodia today. Despite the guarantees of the Cambodian Constitution, the Land Law and international law, vulnerable and marginalized communities continue to have their land illegally and unfairly taken away from them. This land is typically transferred to private companies for commercial development, often in violation of the Land Law. Land has also been appropriated for the construction of hydroelectric dams, which in addition to depriving and displacing communities, has severe long-term environmental and economic impacts on the affected areas. These consequences are seldom mitigated by the RGC. Few Cambodians are aware of or can access the institutions that are mandated to protect their land rights – the courts, the Cadastral Committee and the National Authority for the Resolution of Land Conflicts.
Therefore an important element of the Business Human Rights Project will be the training of workers, unions, civil society groups and activists to educate them on their rights and advocacy strategies, and the actions they can legally take. In doing so, the Project will seek to remove the means by which the RGC and private companies can overlook and ignore the victims of human rights abuses in relation to the business sector.How?
CCHR’s Business Human Rights Project is implementing the following activities in order to improve the human rights and legal standards related to the business sector:
- Increasing awareness among the general public with regards to the human rights responsibilities of the business sector; this includes monitoring human rights developments in the garment industry and those related to the land conflict, responding to important developments and advocacy efforts;
- Increasing engagement with the business sector and the RGC with regards to the intersect between business and human rights: this involves meeting with relevant ministries, companies, factories and buyers to increase respect for human rights and advocacy efforts; and
- Empowering civil society and workers to advocate for their own rights: this includes training sessions on the GPs and their implementation for unions and civil society groups, and capacity building of relevant civil society actors.
CCHR is aiming to work constructively with the RGC, partner NGOs, civil society and workers, as well as with companies, factories and buyers, in order to improve respect for human rights within the business sector’s day-to-day operations and policies. The eventual target beneficiaries will be not only the current victims of human rights abuses, such as poorly paid factory workers, sex workers, victims of land evictions, isolated unionists, and so on, but also the businesses themselves: the message that CCHR is aiming to spread is that respect for human rights is not only a moral obligation and a legal requirement, but also pays dividends in terms of bottom line profit.