Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Consumers, Shareholders, People have a right to know about HR violations in companies

When made aware of information about human rights and/or worker rights violations, what should one do? Just assist the victims to lodge police reports, lodge complaints at SUHAKAM, lodge complaints at the Labour Department and/or Industrial Relations Department, or other relevant government agencies? Or should one also highlight it to the public as well? I am of the position that knowledge of human rights violations (or alleged human rights violations) should be highlighted to the public  - and this right, duty and obligation is clearly also stated in the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.

"...Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels....
"....freely to publish, impart or disseminate to others views, information and knowledge on all human rights and fundamental freedoms;

c) To study, discuss, form and hold opinions on the observance, both in law and in practice, of all human rights and fundamental freedoms and, through these and other appropriate means, to draw public attention to those matters ..."
Do consumers have an interest in knowing about human rights violations that may be happening to workers involved in the production of products?

YES, they certainly do as this would affect their choices when it comes to products that they do purchase. It is not just the quality of substance used that concerns the consumer - but also the question of whether the said products have been made in a situation where human rights, worker rights, environment rights, etc have been respected and protected. If in the production, there have been violation of worker rights - like the use of slave or forced or child labour, then many consumers may elect not to support such violations of rights by not buying such products until and unless these violations are rectified...

Do investors have an interest in knowing about human rights violations that may be happening to workers involved in the production of products?

YES. Today, directly and indirectly individual persons invest in companies - by buying and owning shares, by buying unit trusts (which choose and buy shares in companies), through the employees provident fund (which also buys shares, bonds, etc...) - and whilst at one time the consideration was purely how much profits/revenue would one earn was the only consideration, today there is also concern about other aspects including human rights, worker rights, environment rights,...
It is because of this trend amongst consumers and investors that has resulted in the emergence of 'corporate social responsibility', something that most companies now advocate - and this not only cover the quality of products used in production but also a commitment to ensuring that worker rights, human rights and environment rights are not only recognized but also protected by these companies.

Some companies have progressed to not only tying themselves to these higher rights protecting standards but have also bound their suppliers and all companies/individuals in their supply chain right from the mining/harvesting of metals/products used in their production. Some have even developed comprehensive Code of Conducts themselves, or have bound themselves to Code of Conducts that covers sectors of production, like the Electronic Industry Code of Conduct. 

Today, even at the UN - we have a Special Representative of the Secretary General on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises

What about people generally?
In a democratic society, where it is people that elect their government, as in Malaysia, certainly people have a legitimate right to know - because ultimately the very existence (and continued existence) of companies/businesses, including conditions relating to their existence in a country which today includes also how they respect human rights, environment and how they treat their workers are matters that are all aspects that any good government consider as important. If governments ignore human rights violations, then people would chose some other that will ensure that these rights are not only respected but also protected. Lynas, for example is a current case, where there is general dissatisfaction of the people about the earlier government approval for this rare earth company to operate in Malaysia, and there is much public outcry - and this, mind you, is an issue of future posibble risk to health and environment. 

What about the Federal Government, State government and Local Councils?
For any factory and business to operate, they need to get the permission and approval of not just the Federal Government but also the State government and the relevant Local Council. It is absurd for State governments and/or Local Council to even allege that they do not have any say in the matter...

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