"Economic Development of Human Rights? Assessing the Impact of Kenya’s Trade and Investment Policies and Agreements on Human Rights"

Economic Development of Human Rights? Assessing the Impact of Kenya’s Trade and Investment Policies and Agreements on Human Rights

United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural rights recommends that Kenya undertake the measures necessary to assess the potential adverse impact of EPAs

SUNDAY 30/11
1 pm
PANAFRIC HOTEL, NAIROBI

On the occasion of a seminar on "Instruments for Corporate Accountability" which will take place on 29 and 30 November in Nairobi, Kenya, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and its member organization, the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) will today launch a report entitled "Economic Development of Human Rights? Assessing the Impact of Kenya’s Trade and Investment Policies and Agreements on Human Rights".

As growing concerns have been expressed regarding the impact of foreign direct investment and trade liberalisation on the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights in Africa, FIDH and KHRC, in collaboration with the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO), carried out a joint fact-finding mission in Kenya in December 2006.

The report emphasizes the adverse human rights impact of the establishment of the over 40 Export Processing Zones (EPZs), which are the main recipient of foreign direct investment in Kenya and which employ about 40,000 workers, mostly women. Testimonies gathered during the mission, revealed the following violations of workers’ rights: workers do not earn a living wage, forced and inadequately compensated overtime is common, there is little job security, sexual harassment is prevalent, as well as incidents of racial discrimination by foreign management and supervisors and employers routinely violate the workers’ right to organize.

The report also examines the human rights impact of the cut flower industry which is presently the most profitable agricultural undertakings in Kenya. Indeed, a lot of foreign investment is pouring into this industry, mainly due to the fact that investors can expect high rates of product output at much lower costs of production; when compared to production costs in other parts of the world. Workers interviewed complained about low salaries and harsh working conditions. To a certain extent, the fact that multinational companies in this sector are the subject of public scrutiny and that they have Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) policies although limited, is a positive factor.

In order to redress and prevent current and future human rights violations perpetrated in the framework of trade and investment policies and agreements, FIDH and KHRC call on Parliamentarians to expedite the constitutional reforms process and ensure that economic, social and cultural rights are adequately guaranteed and protected by the Bill of Rights in the next Constitution. we also call on them to take all necessary measures to guarantee that Kenyan citizens benefit from a decent work which will in turn enable the ordinary Kenyans to live a life of dignity life. Kenyan policymakers should also ensure that trade and investment agreements do not contain provisions that may have a negative impact on the enjoyment of human rights. The report shows that there is an urgent need for Kenya to rebalance its economic policy with its human rights obligations, the current policy being more focused on attracting investors and increasing exports and the protection mechanisms remaining ineffective.

In this regard, our organisations welcome the final observations issued by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights to Kenya on 19 November 2008, which called on Kenya to "undertake the measures necessary to assess the potential adverse impact of any commitments under the Economic Partnership Agreement with the European Union and the Investment Agreement for the COMESA Common Investment Area, which are currently being negotiated, as well as under bilateral trade and investment agreements, on the economic, social and cultural rights of Kenyans, and to ensure that Covenant rights are not adversely affected". The Committee denounced unfair working conditions and called on the State to "include economic, social and cultural rights in its new Constitution [...] to review its incentive regime for EPZs [...] to ensure trade union freedom [...] combat sexual harassment and racial discrimination in the EPZs". The Committee also recommended that Kenya "increase, annually adjust and enforce minimum wages to ensure that such wages provides workers with an adequate standard of living for themselves and their family". [1]

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