The Legal Framework for Business and Human Rights in Nigeria
Ogheneyoma Rhoda Odjighoro (LL.B) – Volunteer Researcher, UN Global Compact Network Nigeria
The protection of human rights plays a crucial in the sustenance of human relations. In advancing the ecosystem of the Nigerian society, businesses are now required to contribute to the promotion of human rights actively and positively.
Human rights principles are duly protected and provided for under Nigerian law. Chapter IV of the Nigerian constitution generally provides for the fundamental human rights of individuals in Nigeria. With the Nigerian constitution being the supreme law of the land, businesses are expected to comply with the human rights principles while carrying out their business operations.
Businesses in Nigeria are generally encouraged to comply with global standards for the protection and promotion of human rights as it relates to their activities. Due compliance with global standards for the promotion of human rights provides certain commercial and social benefits for the business. Some of such benefits include:
- Increased productivity, loyalty, and commitment from employees.
- Reduced risk of corporate espionage or malicious attacks.
- General improvement of the business brand and reputation.
- Reduced risk of customer dissatisfaction, protest, or being exposed to the ‘cancel culture’.
- Better chances of partnering with other international organizations who respect and promote human rights.
- Attracting more top quality employee talents, while retaining those they already have.
- Enhanced shareholder/investor trust and confidence.
In ensuring corporate sustainability through the protection of human rights, the UN Global Compact has created a principle-based approach for businesses to be able to meet their fundamental responsibilities in the area of human rights. The UN Global Compact established the Ten Principles for corporate sustainability which were derived from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Labour Organization’s Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, and the United Nations Convention Against Corruption.
From the Ten Principles of the UN Global Compact, six of those principles specifically address roles of businesses in promoting human rights. These six principles are:
Principle 1: Businesses should support and respect the protection of internationally proclaimed human rights.
Principle 2: Businesses should make sure that they are not complicit in human rights abuses.
Principle 3: Businesses should uphold the freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining.
Principle 4: Businesses should ensure the elimination of all forms of forced and compulsory labour.
Principle 5: Businesses should enhance the effective abolition of child labour.
Principle 6: the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation.
In enhancing the legal framework of business and human rights in Nigeria, it is important to practically examine what businesses can do to properly incorporate the principles of the UN Global Compact.
The first and second principles of the UN Global Compact states that “Businesses should support and respect the protection of internationally proclaimed human rights and should ensure that they are not complicit in human right abuses.”
Businesses seeking to incorporate these principles must have due regard and respect for the fundamental human rights as provided in Chapter IV of the Nigerian constitution as well as other international conventions protecting human rights such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
A practical example of how this can be achieved is by businesses being conscious of the right to life and dignity of person by ensuring that they do not endanger the lives of their employees or expose their employees to inhumane or degrading treatment.
The third principle of the UN Global Compact provides that “Businesses should uphold the freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining.” The right to freely associate is also protected under Chapter IV of the Nigerian constitution. The right of employees in Nigeria to join trade unions is also duly protected under the Trade Unions Act 2004. In imbibing this principle, businesses should ensure that they do not restrain their employees from joining duly registered trade unions.
The fourth principle of the UN Global Compact provides that “Businesses should ensure the elimination of all forms of forced and compulsory labour.” In addressing the provisions of this principle, due recourse must be made to the Nigerian Labour Act. Section 73 of the Nigerian Labour Act expressly prohibits all forms of forced and compulsory labour.
For the avoidance of doubt, forced labour has been defined under Article 2 (1) of the International Labour Organization Forced Labour Convention 1930 (No.29) as “all work or service which is exacted from any person under the threat of a penalty and for which the person has not offered himself or herself voluntarily.” As such, businesses must ensure that their employees or workers are voluntarily engaged and not forced to work or provide a service under the threat of a penalty or under intimidating circumstances.
The fifth principle of the UN Global Compact states that “Businesses should enhance the effective abolition of child labour.” Child labour remains a prevalent issue in Nigeria, with about 47.5% of children between the ages of 5 – 14 being unlawfully engaged in various forms of child labour.1 Under the Nigerian Child’s Right Act, a child is simply a person under the age of 18years. In incorporating this principle, businesses must ensure that they carry out due background checks and only employ people who are above the age of 18years.
The sixth principle of the UN Global Compact provides for “the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation.” Section 42 of the Nigerian Constitution protects individuals from being discriminated based on their gender, ethnicity, religion or political views. In furtherance of this principle, businesses must ensure that they do not discriminate anyone in the process of recruiting, retaining, or promoting their employees.
The choice of businesses to imbibe the principles of the UN Global Compact ensures that they comply with global standards, while contributing positively to the realization of human rights. Society is constantly evolving but one thing that has remained constant is that consumers are being more intentional about the businesses that they patronize and are identified with. In order to advance corporate sustainability, businesses must make positive and impactful decisions for the promotion of human rights.