ISLAMABAD: A two-day consultation on the National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights started on Tuesday in order to generate a debate with legislators concerning policy making in the field.

Speakers at the meeting said Pakistan has yet to initiate the process of preparing a formal national action plan on business and human rights.

They said that even though the Constitution guarantees the protection and promotion of human rights in accordance with national and international obligations, the country’s 60 million-strong work force continues to face significant problems.

They said a large number of people work in the informal economy and are deprived of their basic rights such as minimum wage, right to association, lack of collective bargaining and are being forced to work in an unsafe work environment.

The meeting was hosted by the Pakistan Institute for Parliamentary Services (Pips) in collaboration with Oxfam and aimed at discussing guiding principles and legal policy dimension of business and human rights with legislators.

Two-day consultation on NAP for Business and Human Rights begins

Following the UNHRC’s ‘Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights’ in 2014, the UN agency had called on all member states to develop national action plans for the implementation of the guiding principles.

The meeting started an hour and a half late as the organisers were waiting for Federal Minister for Human Rights Mumtaz Ahmed Tarar to join as chief guest.

Later, he apologised and said he was unaware of the importance of the topic. He was in a hurry and so did not read out his speech and left after a brief address.

“This is a vast subject and awareness raising is crucial as people don’t know about connection between business and human rights,” he said and suggested involving workers from the grass root level, parliamentarians and businessmen in the consultation process in order to make the national action plan more practical and effective.

Representatives from the four provinces talked about the situation in their provinces and all said the subject was new to their ministries. They said despite having human rights departments, this subject was never discussed and addressed.

MNA Shehryar Afridi criticised the federal minister for human rights for not taking interest in the consultation meeting.

“It is unfortunate that he has no time for such an important issue. That is why the key stakeholders and policy makers are clueless about international obligations, which makes us a laughing stock at international forums,” he said.

Federal Ministry of Human Rights Director General Kamran Raja said the ministry is making a lot of efforts and wants support from all stakeholders.

Human rights activist I.A. Rehman stressed on the need for enforcing and implementing the guiding principles for the national action plan on business and human rights.

He talked about the Sustainable Development Goals for the protection of human rights including health, education, clean drinking water and many others.

“It is a global phenomenon that international industries caused damage to the other countries and therefore there is need for action to protect our soil, forests, environment and communities from damage. Through strengthening the local government system, we can achieve success in this regard and climate change is a threat to Pakistan which is interconnected to this topic,” he said.

Pips Executive Director Zafarullah Khan said a lot of work needs to be done in this regard. He said between two and three million children are currently working and that women earn significantly less than men for the same work.

“If industries respect labour laws, there is no doubt that we can get access to international markets,” he added.

Published in Dawn, December 20th, 2017

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