Human rights a business issue

Karin Johansson

Karin Johansson

Business needs to play a bigger role in dealing with human rights and gender- based violence issues, said Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and human rights advocate.

She was speaking at a breakfast yesterday organised by the Deloitte Women's Leadership Initiative, which was initiated by the accountancy firm eight years ago to build relationships with women in business and the government and to attract, retain and develop talented women at the company.

"We need a 21st century way of moving forward that is multi-institutional," Robinson said.

"If human rights are to matter in small places, they have to matter much more in the international institutions like the United Nations, regional organisations like the African Union, European Union, at government level and in the boardrooms of corporations."

Robinson currently serves on the board of the United Nations (UN) Global Compact, an initiative that ensures business plays its part in achieving the UN's vision of a more sustainable and equitable global economy.

She came to South Africa for the Business, Accountability and Human Rights conference hosted by the Foundation for Human Rights, which ended yesterday.

"It is in the interest of business to respect human rights as part, not of their social responsibility, but of their business plan," said ANC MP and former cabinet minister Kader Asmal, who was also a speaker at the conference.

Chief executive of the foundation, Yasmin Sooka, said the discussions at the inaugural conference had laid the foundation for future debates.

"One of the things we noted though was the absence of captains of industry," she said. - With Sapa