After a long drawn-out transition that involved consolidating peace and drafting a new constitution, Nepal finally stands ready to follow a more stable development pathway – one that supports inclusive growth leading to the realization of the Government of Nepal’s vision of “Prosperous Nepal-Happy Nepali”. 

This means we can expect significant increase in public and private investment in businesses and development activities over the next few years. Major focus will be in developing infrastructure and bringing in private sector investment aimed at attaining a high economic growth rate. What is however worth noticing here is the likelihood of physical development taking toll over the broader human development agenda, if we fail to shape our public and private investments in line with accepted international human rights norms.

If we are go by the global experience, Nepal is sure to secure a prosperous future by investing its energies and efforts in promoting development and business models that uphold human rights principles. Any development initiative that focuses on building infrastructures without due consideration on inclusivity, diversity and dignity of human being, will not help people realize their full potential. This calls for both the governments and businesses to consider human rights as a prerequisite of any development model that aims at brining real prosperity and happiness.

To address this very need, the United Nations has provided its Member States a solid framework to shape their development projects and businesses in line with the international human rights norms and principles.

The “UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights” outlines the role of business and governments in respecting human rights. The Principles do not create any new international legal obligations on companies or the private agencies, but they help concerns to operate with full respect to human rights and meet their legal responsibilities set out in domestic laws.

The Principles are based on a ‘Protect, Respect and Remedy’ framework. The framework states the duties to protect against human rights abuses by third parties, such as business, through their policies, regulation and adjudication. The companies have the responsibilities to respect human rights, that is, to avoid infringing on the rights of others. Likewise, the principle states that companies must take steps to ensure that there are effective judicial and non-judicial remedies available to people whose human rights are abused.

There are numbers of international obligations set in the covenants and conventions. And as the companies need to work under the national laws, they are directly/indirectly accountable towards compliance of international human rights treaties. As we know that once the international conventions are ratified, the government requires to treat them prior than the national laws and go for the effective implementation.

Why human rights

The constitution has guaranteed the people of Nepal a number of fundamental rights. They include right to healthy environment, right to dignified life, right to have affirmative action for poor and marginalized, social justice, right at work, right to women and right to child. The constitution under its directive principles and state policies also envisions that the government has the responsibility to fulfill its obligation under international human rights treaties. Nepal has ratified seven out of nine big conventions, including on the right of women, right of persons with disabilities, torture and disappearances.  

Besides our own constitutional and treaty obligations, we also need to take heed and respect local and international trends that make it impossible to ignore human rights and other environmental concerns. Several global trends have come together to place human rights higher on the business agenda. The global economy has emerged as the central geopolitical fact of our time, and foreign trade has become a polarizing political issue globally. The information technology revolution has linked the world as never before, increasing consumer awareness and attention to issues like the labor practices of companies whose products they buy. In other words, human rights have become one of the factors affecting growth of businesses and companies globally.

Challenges and opportunities

While there has been a global trend where we see businesses spontaneously taking up human rights and even the Sustainable Development Goals as part of their core business strategy, a great deal remains to be done. Only few businesses understand the value of aligning themselves with these international norms. A large section of the private sector in countries like Nepal, are unaware of the opportunities they can unlock by integrating human rights and SDGs into their businesses. This is where the role of the government comes in: to create a conducive environment where more responsible businesses can flourish. Many businesses limit their social engagement to what they call “corporate social responsibility”. But the current discourse on businesses and human rights goes beyond CSR. In fact, the social and environmental factors are taken as something more than a responsibility; they have become a survival mantra for businesses of 21st century, where consumers have become increasingly sensitive.

Nepal is in the right position to capitalize on this global trend to promote human rights-friendly development and businesses. The government, in order to also materialize the national slogan of “Prosperous Nepal and Happy Nepal,” should make sure that human rights is well respected in all the spheres of life. The government should collaborate with the private sector to create strong oversight mechanisms to oversee the private businesses and provide necessary guidance in maximizing their contribution to create a just and prosperous Nepal.

(Mr. Tamata works with the United Nations Development Program in Nepal as a Portfolio Manager and specializes on human rights, justice and rule of law. Follow him on Twitter: @Tek_Tamrakar)

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