THOUSANDS of people who live near manufacturing industries and close to mines continue to be exposed to dangerous toxic waste and emissions.
They are exposed to dangerously polluted air, dust and fuel substances including gases borne out of dumped toxic waste, polluted water sources and other environmental ills.
Mavis Chikondo (26), is a housewife who lives in a Harare suburb near a cement manufacturing firm.
She has a keen interest in gardening, but her efforts to grow edible plants have been hampered by the cement dust.
“I do not even know the kind of rights I am entitled to in order to stop this air pollution by the company because my husband is one of the employees at the company and I am scared that if I lodge complaints he will be fired,” said Chikondo.
“I have tried to grow a vegetable garden but the garden does not yield much because of the pollution, and my children often suffer from terrible coughs due to the dust which poses a serious health threat to people who live in this vicinity.”
The Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (Zela) together with the Danish Institute for Human Rights (DIHR) and Social Accountability International (SAI) believe that business and government should prevent occurrences of business human rights abuses.
They believe that advancing the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) which were universally endorsed by the United Nations Human Rights Council as an important international framework to advance corporate accountability, would help solve some of the problems where business operations ended up in violation of people’s rights.
The recommendations by Zela and its partners seek to address key human rights and business issues by engaging in collective dialogue and training with all stakeholders, including police, prisons, MPs, communities, law enforcement agents and others.
“Although the human rights mantra has targeted government as the primary duty bearer, new insights have shown that businesses also have a role to play in addressing human rights abuses within their sector,” read Zela’s report on UNGPs.
Zela said within the context of UNGPs government, business, civil society and even the media had a role to play to end human rights violations by businesses.
They said government should develop guidelines for businesses to comply with UNGPs, revise existing laws and policies regarding human rights and businesses, promote awareness of available state based and non-state based human rights remedy mechanisms, and encourage businesses to report on human rights initiatives, issues and best practices.
Civil society organisations were also encouraged to raise awareness on UNGPs, device conflict management structures, and promote awareness among communities and workers on their rights at the workplace and in the community.
Glen View North MDC-T legislator Fani Munengami said Parliament had a role to play in improving companies’ human rights practices.
“Parliament plays an oversight role and should be pivotal in pushing for legislation that protects people from human rights violations perpetrated by businesses. MPs should introduce motions that advocate for change of behaviour by businesses and implementation of UNGPs,” he said.
“There should be a lot of monitoring done by MPs on operations of companies in their constituencies so that they are able to identify problems and raise them in Parliament. It is also imperative to do outreach programmes where MPs visit communities affected by pollution, dumping of toxic waste, water pollution, and so on.”
Lorraine Marima from Chiadzwa Community Development Trust said civic society organisations needed to blow the whistle whenever communities were affected by human rights abuses.
“CSOs are pivotal in the awareness of people’s human rights, capacity building of different stakeholders affected by business-related human rights issues, conflict resolution, as well as lobbying government and Parliament to take policy measures to avert violations. Whistle blowing is also important to ensure that cases of violations are reported and those responsible brought to book,” said Marima.
Tatenda Dzinotyiwei, a small scale miner said workers were also affected by unfair labour practices.
“There is need for protective clothing, decent salaries and rights to engage in strike action for workers. Government should also react urgently and harmonise labour and environmental laws with the constitution to protect people from business related human rights abuses,” he said.
“Artisanal miners should also be incorporated into mainstream business and they should know the policies governing mining and the roles played by the Environmental Management Agency [EMA] and Zimra so that they do not pollute water sources and cause land degradation.”
Zela director Mutuso Dhliwayo said the media had a role to create awareness of UNGPs and expose violations.
“The media should be able to do investigative stories on environmental or work-related violations by businesses, and inform the people about their rights and laws that can protect them,” said Dhliwayo.
He said companies should also do human rights impact assessments in order to be able to measure profits versus violations.
Justice Zvaita of Emmaus International Trust in Matabeleland said he had observed a lot of violations by artisanal gold miners in Esigodini where water sources were polluted, posing danger for people and animals.
He said there was also a lot of abuse of vulnerable groups such as women and children who worked as artisanal miners.
“Artisanal small scale miners are causing a lot of havoc because they use mercury and cyanide during their operations. They do not abide by government statutes. If the judiciary was involved and invited to some of the workshops on UNGPs, they would understand and appreciate some of the problems that people face,” he said.
“We have seen a lot of sexual, physical and economic abuse in this sector and there are a lot of health issues as people operate without toilets and proper sanitation facilities. There is siltation of rivers, deforestation, veld fires, criminal activity and a lot of other environmental breaches.”