Swedwatch organises training programme on business and human rights
Swedwatch, a Sweden based non-profit organisation, organised a four day long online training programme on business, human rights and environment for youth in Bangladesh. Held on 20-30 September 2021, the programme was attended by twenty-four students of various disciplines including law, business, engineering, from different institutions across the country. The training aimed at providing theoretical and practical knowledge regarding businesses from human rights and sustainable development perspective, putting specific focus on the environmental concern. The training was part of a pilot project to determine the methodology in bridging the knowledge gap among the youth in Bangladesh on business, human rights and environment identified during the 2nd UN-South Asia Forum on Business and Human Rights held in March 2021.
The training was divided into four modules. First module included the basics of human rights and sustainable development. The second and third modules respectively comprised of the United Nation's Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) and Human Rights and Environment Due Diligence along with businesses' accountability. The last module was related to grievance mechanisms in case of violation of human rights.
The sessions were conducted by three experts: Sanjida Shamsher and Charlotte Junghus, researchers at Swedwatch; and Mohammad Golam Sarwar, Assistant Professor of Law at the University of Dhaka and National Consultant for this project at Swedwatch. Sanjida Shamsher specifically focused on businesses' human rights due diligence and reflected, as is recognised in the UNGPs, that the business entities should respect human rights within their business operation. This is not philanthropy anymore, as 'doing good' is not the same as 'doing no harm' to the people and planet. So, no business should violate human rights within their operations or through their business relations. She also explained the requirements set out in the UNGPs that a business should stop causing or contributing to adverse human rights impacts and perform human rights due diligence to identify and mitigate actual and potential adverse impacts. Sanjida emphasised, corporate responsibility does not merely mean refraining from causing harm directly, rather it also means corporations have a responsibility to avoid contributing or having their operations linked to human rights abuses.
Mohammad Golam Sarwar discussed the legal framework of the environmental protection in Bangladesh and how they relate to business. Mr. Sarwar, who was also the moderator of the Bangladesh country session at the 2nd UN-South Asia Forum on Business and Human rights, identified that the environmental consideration of sustainable development is rarely practiced by the companies and business enterprises operating in Bangladesh. Corporations and industries remain largely unaccountable despite their constant contributions to the causation of environmental degradation. He stressed the necessity of integrating the UNGPs into the domestic legal framework concerning the environment. Implementation of corporate environmental accountability shall facilitate not only to achieve sustainable development but also to address the forthcoming challenges of post-LDC graduation of Bangladesh, he opined.
Charlotte Junghus elaborated on the requirement of the compliance with the UNGPs and the need for social dialogue. She mentioned that social dialogue benefits all the stakeholders including the employers, employees, and the government and contributes to better working conditions and is an effective tool to address conflicts and human rights adverse impacts. She also highlighted findings from a Swedwatch report, published in 2018, (https://swedwatch.org/region/companies-need-to-do-more-for-bangladeshs) indicating that Bangladesh struggles to fulfil the ILO's preconditions for a functioning social dialogue, preconditions which need an accelerated inclusion across the country.
The participants and the facilitators were engaged in lively discussions throughout the training sessions. As part of the practical dimension of the training, the participants were divided into four groups which worked on case studies in different industries delving into their human rights compliance and environmental impact.
In the last session, participants expressed their experiences and key take-ways from the training. Mahfuzul Hoque and Adhara Tanisha Kabir from Bangladesh University of Textile said that they really loved the multidisciplinary approach from Swedwatch. They added that the workshop introduced them to many international guidelines on human rights and environment related to business which would be very beneficial for their career as a textile engineer. Rubiaat Sawon from the University of Dhaka said that he learnt a lot from the training, specially the detailed analysis and functioning of the UNGP's.
In the end, the facilitators and the participants vowed to continue developing their knowledge and skills within the field of business and human rights and share their experiences with other students. The participants have also planned to stay connected with each other and encourage business and human rights discourse in the future.
EVENT REPORT BY SADMAN APURBO, STUDENT OF LAW, UNIVERSITY OF DHAKA.