, 07 July, 2020 / 10:00 PM
Catholic Bishops from across Africa joined more than 110 Prelates from different parts of the world to appeal for an end to corporate abuse by multinational companies, which they say, has skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Catholic Bishops who appended their signatures calling for legislation that binds both national and international entities are Local Ordinaries in the Central African Republic (CAR), Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Egypt, Ethiopia, Malawi, Morocco, South Africa, and Uganda.
They joined their colleagues from Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil and other countries across the globe in signing the statement that was published Monday, July 6 on the website of International Cooperation for Development and Solidarity (CIDSE), an umbrella organization for Catholic development agencies.
According to the Bishop signatories, big multinational corporations are exploiting their vulnerable workers and, during the pandemic, giving the workers the raw end of the deal that includes cancelling the raw deals at the last minute.
“With the outbreak of COVID-19, humanity faces an unprecedented global crisis. In addition to the threat to public health, the economic and social disruption threatens the long-term livelihoods and wellbeing of millions,” the Bishops note in their collective statement shared with ACI Africa Monday, July 6.
They add, “Particularly vulnerable to the worst impacts of the crisis are the millions of workers lower down the supply chain – many of whom are women. For instance, some big fashion brands and retailers have cancelled orders and refused to pay for textiles already produced, resulting in millions of workers being sent home without pay, social security or compensation.”
The Bishop signatories from Africa include Bishop Ruiz Molina Jesús, Bishop Nestor-Désiré Nongo-Aziagbia, and Bishop Guerrino Perrin all from CAR; Bishop Miguel Ángel Sebastián Martínez and Bishop Martin Waingue Bani, both from Chad; Bishop Pius Mlungisi Dlungwana, Bishop Jan de Groef, and Bishop Victor Hlolo Phalana all from South Africa.
Others are Bishop Martin Anwel Mtumbuka and Bishop John Alphonsus Ryan both from Malawi; Bishop Sosthène Ayikuli Udjuwa from DRC; Bishop Ibrahim Issak Sidrak from Egypt; Bishop Tesfasellassie Medhin from Ethiopia; and Bishop Giuseppe Filippi and Bishop Damiano Giulio Guzzetti, both from Uganda.
The Catholic Prelates note that the pandemic has sown chaos in the global supply chains that link factories across borders, exposing dependence on vulnerable labourers doing essential work across the globe.
“Through their operations, irresponsible companies are complicit in acts of violence and suffering. We, Catholic leaders throughout the world, call on states to put an end to this,” the Bishops assert in their five-page statement.
According to the signatories to the Bishops’ statement, irresponsible companies across the globe have been involved in various abuses by evading taxes that could serve to build and maintain public services such as hospitals or schools.
Additionally, the multinational companies are perpetrators of soil, air and water pollution through their illegal manufacturing activities in poor countries where they operate, the Bishops lament.
They accuse the companies, which they refer to as “irresponsible”, for being complicit in gross human rights violations around the world, like forced and child labor.
“When environmental or social laws are jeopardizing profits, there is clear evidence that transnational companies sometimes threaten to sue States, using the Investor-State Dispute Settlement Mechanism,” the Bishops note.
They add, “This profit-driven system and the throwaway culture it brings needs to be challenged, now more than ever… As Bishops, we feel we have a moral and spiritual obligation to speak about the urgency of reordering the priorities during and in the aftermath of this crisis.”
The Bishops note that to counter the worrying situation, the United Nations, the European Union and states “have a unique opportunity to step up, by introducing effective and robust legislation that would establish mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence obligations for all companies.”
“Such legislation should improve access to courts for people affected by human rights violations, holding companies accountable for damages they have caused,” they say.
The Catholic leaders express their concern about existing legislation drafted by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), which seem to be doing little to protect people and the planet from environmental destruction and human rights abuses from the multinational companies.
As a way forward, the Bishops appeal to all governments across the world “to uphold their obligations under international law to protect human rights and prevent corporate abuses.”
They also call for the formation of a mandatory and robust legislation, which they say will introduce mandatory environmental and human rights due diligence, “to identify, assess, stop, prevent and mitigate the risks and violations to the environment and all human rights throughout the supply chains of businesses.”
Such a legislation, the Bishops say, will improve the possibilities of affected people to claim for compensation in national civil courts.
The legislation, they say, will come in handy in protecting people against corporate human rights abuses such as land grabbing, the killing of human rights defenders, forced and child labor, gender-based violence, and environmental degradation and deforestation.
The Church leaders urge States around the world to actively participate in the UN negotiations for a legally binding instrument to regulate, in international human rights law, the activities of transnational corporations and other business enterprises.
“The existing system hurts people and the planet and we are called to do better,” the Bishops say in their collective statement, and add, “The coronavirus crisis should be taken as an opportunity to start a just transition and to put in place a new economic system that serves people and the planet first.”
ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.
Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa