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The media and deepening of awareness on voluntary principles

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JournalistsGhana’s efforts to safeguard the implementation of the Voluntary Principles (VPs) on security and human right is laudable; however, media engagement is essential to help deepen public awareness on the initiative.

The VPs on security and human rights are a set of non-binding principles created to assist extractive companies to balance security concerns with human rights.

The VPs for security and human rights were unveiled in December 2000 by the United States’ State Department and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the United Kingdom, after a year-long process involving government officials, oil and mining companies, and civil society organization (CSOs).

Ghana the only African country currently on the VPs, formally joint it in April, 2014, through the inspiration of Switzerland; which has no extractive industry but hosts the headquarters of many international extractive companies.

Ghana’s adoption of the VPs, would serve as a shining example for other African countries endowed with natural resources to emulate.

Nii Osah Mills, Minister of Lands and Natural Resources, in an  address  at a VPs multi-stakeholder workshop in Accra, observed that security and respect for human rights are fundamental needs which are shared by individuals, communities, businesses and governments.

He said the VPs would improve collaboration and problem-solving with companies and civil-society, promoting a more stable investment environment and safeguarding investment returns.

The government has also adopted the improve resource governance by adopting approved internationally acceptance operating standards; such as the VPs, extractive industry transparency initiatives and the open governance partnership.

A successful implementation of Ghana’s VPs action plan would depend on the collaborative efforts and sacrifices that would be made by the government, CSOs and corporate entities in the extractive industry.

The media in collaboration with CSOs could contribute to the advancement of security and human rights by holding companies engaged in the extractive industry accountable for the security and human rights of their staff and the communities in which they operate.

Pat Alsup, outgoing United States Deputy Ambassador said Ghana’s CSOs would gain a seat at the VPs table, and greater recognition for their contribution to the success of the industry and the communities who support it.

Indeed, Ghana is endowed with abundant natural resources such as gold, iron ore, manganese, bauxite, diamond and recently oil and gas; which have attracted some mining companies to invest in the country.

The contributions of natural resources contribute to the nation’s socio-economic development cannot be overemphasised.

However, the extracting of all these minerals has serious security and human rights implications on the staff and host communities; which sometimes lead to protracted conflicts.

To forestall any eventualities, extractive companies must therefore, adopt the VPs to enable them incorporate its guidelines into their working documents.

Some extractives companies often operate in complex environments with little guidance on the ground on how to observe their human rights responsibilities.

The VPs would help them identify human rights risks and take meaningful steps to address those dangers in a manner that helps ensure respect for human rights in their operations.

It is essential that extractive companies put in place solid defense mechanisms to protect employees against incidents like the tragedy at the oil refinery attack by terrorists in Algeria.

Extractive companies operating in Ghana such as AngloGold Ashanti, Tullow Oil and Newmont have joined the VPs, which has empowered them to align their corporate policies and procedures with internationally recognised human rights principles in the provision of security for their operations.

By so doing, such companies communicate to employees, contractors, shareholders, and consumers their commitment to the principles: through sharing of best practices and lessons learned with one another, and by collaborating on difficult issues.

The VPs are divided in three categories – risk assessment, interactions with public security, and interactions with private security.

The assessment and management of security and human rights is an important part of fulfilling the commitment every company must make to respect the human rights of the individuals and communities affected by their operations and to conform to the VPs.

Christine Bader (2013), Visiting Scholar at Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights observed that while recognising that business can’t (and shouldn’t) control the actions of government, the VPs specify that companies should work with law enforcement to ensure appropriate use of force and equipment in line with international standards.

Under the VPs, the role of companies in conflict-affected areas is to ensure that they do not cause, contribute to, or benefit from, human rights abuses.

In areas of fragile governance the responsibility de facto increases due to the absence of government institutions, and the company is obliged to carry out due diligence to prevent incidents, and report them when they occur.

The VPs provides platform for mutual learning, joint problem solving, and building best practices on security and human rights challenges with companies, governments, and CSOs.

The VPs offers a framework for companies to manage risk effectively by conducting a comprehensive assessment of human rights risks associated with security; engaging appropriately with public and private security service providers and surrounding communities in complex environments.

It also institute human rights screenings of and trainings for public and private security forces and developing systems for reporting and investigating allegations of human rights abuses.

The guiding principles are the first set of UN-endorsed global guidelines on business and human rights, and provide an important framework and focal point for corporations, states, civil society, and other actors as they work to strengthen their respective approaches to business and human rights.

To empower the media to create a greater awareness about the VPs and how they are implemented by companies, there is the need for government, CSOs, Ghana Chamber of Commerce and companies in the extractive industry to set aside an annual week celebration where officials would take media platforms to educate the people.

Furthermore, there should be regular media sensitisation workshops and training programmes on the VPs to keep them adequately and accurately informed; so that they would in turn inform and educate the people on it.

The media and CSOs should also be given increased access to information about the VPs for other institutions who are starting to adopt them.

With the VPs in placed; definitely the role of media and CSOs in the extractive industry would contribute greatly to improve good governance of natural resources in the country.

By Iddi Z. Yire

Source: GNA

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