Dr Bärbel Kofler: Transferring the UN Guidelines on Business and Human Rights into Practice in Germany

Human rights must not be ignored when doing business overseas …

Speaking at The Pakistan Institute of International Affairs (PIIA, Watch Video), Dr Bärbel Kofler – member of the German Bundestag – said that because of high levels of exploitation of labour in the developing world, consumers in the west are willing to pay more for products which are produced using labour inputs under a system where people are fairly treated and paid for work. In interesting times when both internally and externally Angela Merkel is on the back foot for letting in a flood of refugees – who are usually dubbed “economic migrants” by right-wingers – Dr Kofler argued human rights in business are heavily debated in Europe and Germany, especially after unfortunate incidents in recent past, which include the Rana Plaza tragedy in Bangladesh and in Karachi’s Baldia Town fire factory incident. Germany’s National Action Plan (NAP) for economic cooperation is based on UN guidelines on Business in Human Rights.

In an era of globalization, the UN guidelines oblige states to protect the human rights of every citizen and they equally oblige business entities to respect those human rights. This post gathers the details of the event from the Internet and Farhan Khan’s excellent coverage is reproduced from the LiveRostrum news agency. Dr Kofler said that the UN guidelines have three pillars. First, states are obliged to protect citizens from human rights violations. Second, it is also the obligation of the business sector to respect human rights. Third and last, access to remedies is an important issue which is very complicated, and as we know in the Baldia Textile factory case a German company KIK, was one of the main buyers. The case is still in court.

Dr Kofler threw up the question whether the persons supporting their families  who lost their life in the factory fire incident or were injured, even had at least access to any actual or potential remedies. The exploitation of labour is something which is clearly in the public’s mind worldwide and she explained:

It remains to be seen whether the remedy will be in the court or out of court. It’s a big issue to discuss in Germany’s National Action Plan (NAP) whether only individuals should have the rights to access to find the causes of the incident or whether the lawyers, trade unions, NGOs should have similar rights.

On state obligations as regards human rights, she said, a lot of our associations say that they are doing lots of things for human rights in business on a voluntary basis, but, the question arises if they really do such things voluntarily; why could they not do it on an obligatory basis? “We are trying to formulate obligations for companies to realize and force them to look at the human rights context they are acting in,” she further said.

Dr Kofler informed that the NAP was trying to support small companies having difficulties to get all the information from abroad. She surprised the audience when she said that lots of people in Europe and Germany are ready to pay more for products which are fairly produced using workers who are paid respectable wages.

She added that one of the outcomes of this accord in Germany is that the Germany’s Ministry of Work & Social Affairs together with Ministry of Economic Cooperation & Development had set up social insurance system, not only for providing money to the victims of fatal incidents in the workplace, but to use this money for preventing such incidents from occurring; it also includes education and training to avoid such incidents.

Dr Kofler said the human rights are universal, it’s not a western concept; if those principles and rights are not guaranteed by states they should be forced to protect these rights.

Cent percent implementation of human rights might not be possible, as states and other actors are bound to transgress the law. Sometimes politicians are hypocrites, guided by their own interests they elect to buttress their own causes and lack the integrity to implement human rights laws and conventions and they care more for their interests than the national interest.

On a question on eradicating radicalization in the society, she responded, “the best way out of radicalization was education”. As she said:

We should have vocational centres for children, where they learn to mix freely with each other and that way they will not give undue importance to the religious or cultural origins. They’ll be better absorbed. We have some very good programmes, in cooperation with Pakistan.

Dr Kofler discussed the problems of migrants in Germany; as for the last fifty years people from different parts of the world were coming to Germany. The migrants’ children often do not integrate into the schooling system of Germany. She therefore argued:

A lot of women of migrant population keep at home and they don’t understand the German language, even they don’t have access to what German state is offering to them.

Talking about, the recent wave of migrants entering into Germany after the crises in the Middle East, she said:

Germany received around a million migrants in just half a year, we were neither expected nor prepared. We are running short of teachers, facilitation centres, with housing issues for these people, but despite all these problems, the German government is trying its best to solve the issues.

Human rights must not be ignored when doing business overseas’, coverage from The News.

Human rights in the corporate sector is a highly debatable issue in Germany, especially in light of the Rana Plaza tragedy in Bangladesh and the one in Baldia Town Karachi four years ago. The debate in Germany is that the buyers and producers must debate the issue in right earnest. The new coalition in Germany has wanted to tackle the issue and make choices but it would take time.

This was stated by Dr Bärbel Kofler, member of the German Bundestag, while addressing members of PIIA, the media and the intellectual elite of the city on Thursday evening.

She said the ministries of foreign affairs, domestic affairs and justice would have to work in tandem. This, she said, was a long-term debate. She reiterated the importance of the following issues in order to achieve good results. First, of course, businesses must be  obliged to respect human rights. The same applies to the state which must also respect human rights and provide access to remedies through the courts because it is obliged to protect citizens’ human rights.

She mentioned her government’s National Action Plan (NAP) to provide information to companies. Human rights, she said, was not just a Western concept; it was universal.

In reply to a question from Dr Masuma Hassan, chairperson of the PIIA, as to whether the foreign labour that had brought so much prosperity to Germany would be sent back home, Kofler replied that she did not foresee that eventuality even though there were complications, the main one being that of total assimilation on account of cultural differences.

She said negotiations between the garments factory that was gutted in Baldia Town four years ago and their principles in Germany were going on. It was, she said, still to be seen how they got access to remedy.

It remains to be seen whether the remedy will be in the court or out of court … The human rights aspect has to be carefully seen to and figures very prominently when your company is doing business overseas.

Recent coverage of PIIA events is available below:

Posted by Editor.

9 Comments

Filed under Discussion, Europe, Human Rights, Immigration, PIIA, Politics, Women

9 responses to “Dr Bärbel Kofler: Transferring the UN Guidelines on Business and Human Rights into Practice in Germany

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