Investment Code Act, 2019 does not protect Rights of Women in Commercial Investment Schemes – Trade and Investment Analyst
The rights of women workers are increasingly being violated by investors in commercial investment schemes. In an engagement with reporters, including with the Prosper’s Magazine ISMAIL MUSA LADU, on a day Women economic empowerment and prosperity is supposed to be celebrated internationally, Ms Jane Seruwagi Nalunga, an expert on investment policies and agreements disclosed that there is a bloc of women – who are actually the majority, whose rights are being stripped off for the sake of investment. Excerpts…
You alongside like-minded individuals and organization across the different economic sector have registered apprehension towards the continued violation and abuse of workers’ rights especially the women workers. What are these concerns that drives you crazy?
Health, Environmental and land rights of individuals and communities are increasingly being violated by the investors in commercial investment schemes such as factories, flower firms, and plantations. And rights of women workers are the most violated. Of course, we are totally opposed to any violation whether on a man or woman. What we have observed is that women face the brunt twice as much.
So our concerns are informed by the fact that increasingly commercial investment schemes are becoming synonymous with human and environmental rights violations. In a number of commercial investment schemes such as the factories, flower firms, and plantations, women’s rights are routinely violated and it seems no one is there to speak up for them.
For example illegal land evictions are rampant in the districts of Kiryandongo, Kassanda, Mubende, Mityana, Wakiso, Kalangala, Nakasongola, Abim, Napak, Kotido, Mukono, Kayunga, Kaberamaido, Bunyangabu, Kyankwanzi and Mbale with limited and inadequate government intervention.
Land-based investments are dispossessing and evicting communities from their land to grow cash crops such as sugarcane, maize, coffee, palm fruits, soy bean exactly as those of the displaced communities. They then convert the initially self-sustaining and food secure communities into landless, poorly paid casual labourers thereby depriving them of their means of livelihood and the right to live in dignity. What explains this situation?
Look, we are appalled by what we see. But there are power imbalances between the investors and the host communities especially the women thereby creating a situation of impunity on the part of the investors. The workers especially women, in factories and plantations work under very precarious conditions. They are subject to work without or with inappropriate Personal Protective Equipment which exposes them to hazardous chemicals.
Of what benefit then are investments to the community
Despite the promises of Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs) of creating jobs and transferring skills, technology among others, there are minimal benefits accrued to host communities and workers and the environment. This is because of the rampant casualization of labour with no contracts, on daily wages, unfair dismissal from work, no access to either annual leave or maternity leave; very heavy work load whether by a woman or a man among other violations. We are mindful that this challenge pertains also in other countries in the region and the continent at large. The workers’ situation is worsened by the low wages, considering that our existing minimum of Shs6, 000 rate has not been reviewed since 1984.
Are you saying there are no proper laws to protect workers, including the women in commercial investment schemes?
The existing investment related policy frameworks have glaring gaps for example the Investment Code Act, 2019, does not provide for a requirement for Human Rights Impact Assessment to be undertaken by investors prior and during the implementation of investment projects. We note specifically, that a number of investment related policy frameworks in Uganda are blind to the protection of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. It does not provide for a Performance Requirement measures and Due diligence. The Employment Act, 2006 also does not protect workers against casualization of labour. In fact, the investment Code Act 2019 does not place any obligation on the investors.
As a country we need investors don’t you think so?
We are not opposed to investment and investors. Actually, we want investment and investors that will not enslave our people as we are seeing in some cases. We want investors who will contribute to Uganda’s sustainable development and also investments that will fulfil all the promises of providing employment, enhance technological transfer among others.
We actually understand that in a bid to attract investments, Government markets Uganda’s labour as cheap and to some extent this has given investors a lee-way to degrade Ugandans especially women.
What are you going to do about it?
We will keep engaging and together with like-minded— CEFROHT, PLA, NOTU, FRA, GRAIN, UCCA, NCHRDs, we are calling upon the government and investors to prioritize citizens’ right to dignity and livelihood of women workers over profits. Specifically, we want the government to address gaps in all investment related legal frameworks to ensure the protection of rights of women workers, community and environmental rights.
And as a matter of urgency we want review of the Investment Code Act, 2019 done. This will address the challenges associated with large scale Land based investments to include Human Rights Impact Assessment, Performance Requirements and specifically enforce the African Union Guidelines for Large scale Land Based Investments and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.
Government should also review the Employment Act, 2006 and the Occupation Health and Safety Act, 2006 to protect people’s (workers’ and communities’) right to dignity and livelihood. As an active member of the International Labour Organization (ILO) and signatory to Minimum Wage-Fixing Machinery Convention No. 131 domesticated in Minimum Wages Advisory Board and Wages Councils Act, we expect the government to implement the 2015 Recommendations of the Minimum Wages Advisory Board to enhance the protection of workers from exploitation.
In addition, we would also want to see the government expedite the process of ratifying the ILO Convention No. 190 and align the legal framework to address violence and harassment in the world of work, review all Bilateral Investment Treaties (BITs) in order to balance between protection of the rights and obligations of the people/citizens and the environment on one hand and the protection of the rights and obligations of the investors on the other hand.
And it is of paramount importance that government looks into the situation of workers in commercial investment schemes such as factories, flower firms, and plantations with a view to secure redress for the affected persons.
Further, government should direct all investments to take up the responsibility of providing workers, both casual and staff workers with proper and adequate personal protective gear for protection against the exposure to various injuries during their work. And lastly the Principles in the National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights in the Binding laws such as the Investment Code Act, 2019 should be mainstreamed.
You have just heard a senior citizen by the names of Cotilda Nabuso from Mukono and another young widowed woman (only identified as Namubiru), all grieving and looking helpless as they face land eviction at the hand of some “dubious” investor. What is the implication of that?
This is why we are saying that the government should investigate the situation of land dispossession of communities by commercial investment schemes with a view to secure redress for the affected persons and communities. We have since observed that there is a link between investment and land grabbing yet that should be the case. So the senior citizen here and the young woman are simply caught up in this web and so are the thousand more victims in similar circumstances in Mukono and beyond. Actually we need a cost benefit analysis of all the investments where we see this kind of a pattern. Life should always come before predatory tendencies – profit. Others wise we cannot prosper as a collective and that is dangerous.
Click this link to read the story as published in the Daily Monitor Newspaper on 11 April 2022;https://www.monitor.co.ug/uganda/business/finance/women-in-commercial-schemes-not-protected-by-investment-code-law-analysts-3779126