Urgent need to review the Investment code and the Uganda-Netherlands Bilateral Investment Treaty
80 workers poisoned at the Royal Van Zanten Flower Farm in Uganda. The Royal Van Zanten is an international company based in the Netherlands dealing in nursery plants and flowers. It has production sites in Uganda. According to the report in the Daily Monitor of 25th October 2016, 80 workers at the Royal Van Zanten flower farm in Wakiso district were poisoned as a result of exposure to poisonous chemicals (Metam sodium). Exposure to this pesticide causes allergic dermatitis and respiratory allergy; and in the long term cancer and mental illness. In addition to the low pay, the workers do not have protective gear. Uganda Horticultural Industrial Services Provider and Allied Workers Union (UHISPAWU) and the Uganda Association of Women Lawyers (FIDA) have protested against this mistreatment of the farm workers most of whom are women.
There is an urgent need to address the legal framework within which investors operate in Uganda. The legal framework is provided under the Uganda Investment Code 2000 which is under review and specifically with regard to investments from the Netherlands under the Uganda – Netherlands Bilateral Investment Treaty, signed on 30 May 2000 and came into effect 1st January 2003.
Unfortunately both the investment Code and the Uganda –Netherlands BIT do not address issues of workers’ rights. It is imperative that investors observe minimum human rights, environmental and labour standards.
Fortunately, the Uganda –Netherlands BIT is coming to end in 2018 as it was to last for 15 years. This is an opportunity for Uganda to renegotiate the terms of this Treaty, mobilize stakeholder views and come up with a Treaty which will promote sustainable human development and protects the environment in both Uganda and the Netherlands. The review of the Investment code should ensure that human rights and the environment are protected.
The Royal Van Zanten phenomenon should not be allowed to happen again.
By JANE S. NALUNGA (Country Director SEATINI-Uganda) 1-11-2016