Over the course of the past two decades, the field of business and human rights has become an issue of increasing concern to civil society, governments and private actors across the globe. This concern comes in the wake of development projects impacting adversely on human rights, non-state and private actors abusing human rights on a regular basis, and perhaps the biggest concern of all – the lack of mechanisms and instruments to address corporate human rights abuses.

The United Nations has taken several steps to advance the business and human rights agenda, ranging from the appointment of John Ruggie as the Secretary-General's Special Representative for Business and Human Rights to establishing a Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises. The process has produced numerous useful documents and guidelines, of which the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights is arguably the best known. 

The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) have also joined the discussion, and established the Working Group on Extractive Industries, Environment and Human Rights – its main special mechanism looking at business and human rights issues pertaining to the extractive industries sector.

Defining the field of business and human rights can be quite a difficult, if not impossible, exercise. It is highly multi- and trans-disciplinary, overlaps with extractive industries law, trade and development law, as well as general international human rights law – and is relevant to the business environment. Multi-national corporations (MNCs) are often the key role-players in this field, as a result of the large scale of business in which they are involved. Many institutions around the world have also identified and placed business and human rights as a core element of corporate social responsibility.

Mission and Vision

The Business and Human Rights Unit at the Centre for Human Rights is committed to finding evidence-based ways of addressing human rights impacts of business on the African continent. This includes conducting research on international business and human rights standards and instruments, building capacity among governments, the corporate sector, academia, civil society and communities, investigating the human rights and environmental impacts of business in Africa, and engaging with judicial, quasi-judicial and non-judicial redress mechanisms.

The Centre has a proud history of collaboration with the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and the Business and Human Rights programme is no exception. In light of this continuing relationship, the Centre assists the African Working Group on Extractive Industries, Environment and Human Rights in fulfilling its mandate by lending research capacity and logistical support to the Working Group.

The Business and Human Rights (BHR) programme aims to contribute to the international BHR discourse by assisting and collaborating with international organisations, academic partners, and civil society across the globe in defining and operationalizing concepts such as the state duty to protect against corporate human rights abuse, the corporate responsibility to respect human rights, and the rights of victims of corporate human rights abuse to have access to effective remedies.

Areas of focus

The Centre for Human Rights generally focuses on countries within the African continent. However, due to the nature of transnational business, the Business and Human Rights Unit includes in its focus trans- and multi-national companies conducting business activities in Africa, and under the right circumstances, the countries in which these multi- or trans-national companies are domiciled.

Thematic areas of focus currently include all extractive industry related human rights standards, instruments and legislative frameworks, as well as access to remedies for victims of corporate human rights abuse. The Centre also assists corporate actors in complying with human rights due to diligence requirements through capacity building and training, assisting with policy analysis, and human rights impacts assessments.


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