In 2011, the United Nations adopted the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and recommended their implementation into national law. These include, inter alia, the responsibility of enterprises to act with regards to human rights protection in connection to their economic activities. The state for its part, must ensure that companies respect human rights. This means that the state should identify and eradicate loopholes in the implementation of the Guiding Principles in national jurisdiction.
Human rights abuses by companies and/or its subsidiaries, sub- or supplying companies are commonplace. Although they usually happen thousands of kilometers away from Europe, they are often direct consequences of decisions that have been taken in European capitals. Jérôme Chaplier, coordinator of the European network European Coalition for Corporate Justice (ECCJ), pointed out that according to surveys, 87% of Europeans support the notion that private companies must adhere to social and ethical standards when they are active abroad. He described the concept of due diligence. This is enshrined in the UN Guiding Principles and outlines the responsibility of companies to act with due diligence as part of their comprehensive responsibilities of human rights protection. Accordingly businesses should recognize, avoid and reduce the human rights risks that may be caused by their activities. In case of violation, they should also have redress instruments and compensate the affected.
Austria has already been reprimanded and urged to take action in the context of discussions on a legally binding instrument on the subject of business and human rights by the relevant UN Committee. The Chair of the AWEPA Section in the Austrian parliament, Hon. Petra Bayr, underlined the urgency for a legal handle that make Austrian companies accountable for human rights violations.
Austria benefitted from increased globalization because of its export orientation; in some economic niches it is even world market leader. The anchoring of the universal human rights also and especially in the economy, however, still is insufficient. Economic partnerships are gaining increasing importance in development cooperation, and it is therefore even more important to provide a clear framework.
The French MEP Dominique Potier described the way a specially established parliamentary circle in France went (Cercle RSM pour la Responsabilité sociétale of Multinational) in order to formulate a law on corporate due diligence and to bring it into National Assembly. For two years NGOs, French trade unions, universities and lawyers, and all four factions of the parliamentary majority (Socialists, Greens, Communists - Group GDR, radical - group RRDP) worked together on a compromise for a bill. A final approvement - after debates in the Senate - is pending.
The comparative study (Austrian, German and Swiss law) Due diligence of companies and board members regarding human rights in international activities, which was presented by Marieta Kaufmann of the Network Social Responsibility (NeSoVe), refers to concrete proposals for human rights protection in Austrian civil law in connection with entrepreneurial diligence.
More than one billion people worldwide are living with disabilities - about 80 percent of them live in the Global South. Poverty and poor living conditions often contribute to a manifestation of disability. But disability also creates poverty, because the possibilities of people with disabilities to support themselves through an income generating job are often very low.
The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was adopted in 2006. In it, the right to self-determination, participation in society, equal opportunities and accessibility is outlined. In 2008, the Convention was ratified by the Austrian National Council. Still, there are many challenges when it comes to implementation. As the director of the Austrian Parliament, Dr. Dossi, explained in his opening speech, the parliament building currently does not meet the criteria of disability-access, and this must be considered in the renovation of the building in the coming years. But inclusion must not be limited to physical aspects, but must also include the social environment.
Social inclusion, i.e. the equal participation of people with disabilities in all spheres of life, unfortunately, is still subject to many false interpretations in all areas of society. Independent living is the fundamental principle of the UN Convention. This does not mean that people with disabilities want to do everything by themselves, but that they want to have the same opportunities and the same control over their lives, said Gabriele Weigt in her Keynote speech. The barriers that are most commonly discussed relate to infrastructure and communication. Little research exists on culture and disability, i.e. how behaviors and attitudes affect an exclusion or inclusion.
Rui Maquene and Jorge Manhique of Mozambique's umbrella organization for people with disabilities (FAMOD; Fórum das associações Mocambiçanas dos deficientes) criticized not only the inadequate availability of data in their country, but also that authorities lack a clear idea about the extent and the impact of disabilities on the lives of people. FAMOD tries in its activities to bring about the paradigm shift towards greater social inclusion, but often fails due to the lack of practical and everyday provisions for people with disabilities. Especially important is the inclusion of people living with HIV.
The legal foundations are not the problem in Mozambique, confirmed the 2nd Vice President of the Parliament, Younusse Amad. However, there is a wide gap between law and practice. According to Article 125 of the Constitution people with disabilities even enjoy special protection. In addition, the CRPD has been ratified and a National Action Plan for people with disabilities was drafted. The implementation of all laws, policies and procedures, however, is flawed. The relevant bodies often are not familiar with the National Action Plan. There are no control mechanisms or bodies. In addition, financial and human resources are lacking.
In two working groups referring to political decision-making (role of parliaments and civil society organizations) as well as to education, training and employment of people with disabilities essential issues were discussed. In his closing remarks, MP Franz-Joseph Huainigg, underlined the successful dialogue with the partner parliament of Mozambique to make the challenges of people with disabilities in development cooperation visible.
The consequences of the economic, financial and food crises of the last decade have made clear that issues pertaining to collective resources can only be processed through sustainable, inclusive and smart policy strategies at international and national levels. Policy Coherence for Development (PCD) seeks to meet these challenges and gradually create a just system.
The Post-2015 Development Agenda is to be a globally binding and universally valid reference framework linked to the goals of poverty reduction and social, ecological and economic sustainability. This means that all countries are encouraged to implement appropriate mechanisms and tools for PCD at national level. Given the high degree of fragmentation of official development assistance and the lack of an organ with "referee function" (policy arbitration) at a high political level Austria is not properly prepared for these challenges. In its recently published Peer Review the Development Assistance Committee of the OECD recommends a clear PCD strategy, mechanisms to develop tools for monitoring and reporting as well as to increase the coherence awareness within the government and to exploit existing expertise of NGOs and think tanks.
The event of the NorthSouthDialogue of Parliaments aimed at raising awareness to the described challenges at the level of relevant stakeholders. The Finnish expert on the subject of PCD, Ms. Raili Lahnalampi, explained the Finnish PCD system as a whole-of-government approach. The connections between trade, migration and security policy shall be recognized with the development policy. A key factor to bring PCD progress about is the intensive involvement of the foreign policy committee. Michael Obrovsky (ÖFSE) stressed that the (in Austria currently missing) political commitment was vital in achieving the goals of PCD.
Some participants mentioned in the discussion that relevant stakeholders lack a comprehensive knowledge of PCD, but also that resistance to its implementation exists. Further, the means for the implementation of the proposed far-reaching concept are missing. In terms of progress, the new three-year program of the Austrian Development Cooperation was outlined, which does not contain specific provisions for PCD, but nevertheless some aspects that could function as starting points.
On the initiative of the NorthSouthDialogue of Parliaments a meeting of the Africa Club with members of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Parliament took place for the first time on 14 April 2015. The Africa Club is an open forum for discussion of experts on African affairs and policy that is working since three years. Central to the Africa Club is the equal dialogue between African Diasporas in Austria and Austrians. The aim of the meeting was the exchange of information pertaining to different topics prominent on the neighboring continent of Africa and its relationship with Austria and Europe. Also, the definition of benchmarks for future engagement with Africa in the Austrian Parliament was on the agenda.
Topics such as migration, epidemics, armed conflicts and political unrest or intra- and interstate conflicts were addressed. Consensus was reached about the fact that there are too little background information and concrete facts about relationships and causes relating to different issues. An intense exchange with experts from Africa and Europe enables in-depth knowledge as a prerequisite for political analysis of individual phenomena. In this context, a regular exchange, relationship building with a focus on specific areas, states and levels, as well as the maintenance of political, economic and civil society contacts is essential. Both at bilateral and multilateral levels opportunities for cooperation and strategic partnerships between African countries and Austria in numerous thematic areas exist.
What is required is an Austria-Africa strategy that takes the existing EU-Africa strategy into account, but in addition creates networks that do not consolidate common neo-liberal and/or neo-imperialist economic conditions. The protection of economic and social human rights must act as a base of cooperation.
At the end of the meeting the members of the Africa Club lobbied for the following topics:
• TV correspondent for the African continent
• Holistic Austria-Africa strategy (in coordination with the EU-Africa Strategy)
• Long-term partnerships with African countries (not just focus countries)
• Support for African students at Austrian universities.
This year's cooperation partner was the Climate Alliance Austria (Klimabündnis Österreich), which presented a poster exhibition on valuable metallic raw materials (see brochure below for download). The posters informed about the conditions and the impact of extracting gold and coltan in industrial mines in South America (Peru) and small scale mines in Africa (DRC). The mining activities have direct and indirect negative affects for thousands of people. Through the use of cyanide and mercury the drinking water, soil and food is poisoned. The working conditions for the local workers and small-scale miners are very hard, the value-added is usually transferred abroad. Peter Molnar, Director of the Climate Alliance Austria, called for the implementation of the recommendations of UNIDO. He also recommended to use only gold with a Fairtrade certificate when the parliament building will be renovated during the next years.
Since 2011 international Fairtrade standards for precious metals in small-commercial mining exist. The Fairtrade minimum price is to be understood as a safety net for the workers. The Fairtrade bonuses are invested in social and physical infrastructure and to achieve higher productivity. This system benefits the entire community. Globally, the idea relates to the creation of a fair economic order, as Helmut Schüller of Fairtrade Austria, noted. Especially in view of the planned revision of the Federal Procurement Regulations, it is important to make these policy possibilities of fair economic cooperation visible in parliament.