14 September 2022
In order to fight human rights and environmental abuses by companies in French-speaking Africa, Sherpa and its partners RSE-et-PED France, RSE-et-PED Togo, RSE Benin and La Lumière (Senegal), have been implementing since July 2021 the project entitled “Developing the capacities of civil society in Benin, Togo and Senegal to ensure that companies respect human rights and environmental law, and to enable the implementation of more protective public policies“.
Co-financed by the Agence Française de Développement (AFD), this project is justified by the lack of supervision of economic actors, who are the source of environmental damage and violations of workers’ and local communities’ rights in these three countries.
Within the framework of this project, which is primarily aimed at women and young people, our consortium organised two one-week training sessions on the subject of “Human rights and environmental violations: what responsibility do companies have?”. The first took place in March 2022 in Cotonou, Benin, for 15 Togolese and Beninese civil society organisations (CSOs). The second took place in May 2022 in Kaolack, Senegal, for 15 Senegalese CSOs.
In Benin, the opening of the training was chaired by Mr. Padonou, representative of the Ministry of Development and Coordination of Government Action. In Senegal, the training was opened by Mr. Sène, President of the Senegalese Committee for Human Rights (CSDH).
These training sessions combined Sherpa’s expertise, in particular on the French law on the duty of vigilance and on the construction of a binding law at the national and international levels, with knowledge of national experts specialised in the Togolese, Senegalese and Beninese legal frameworks.
The different modules and exchanges of experience will enable CSOs to draft plans for mobilisation and advocacy, with the aim of changing the legal frameworks of their countries for greater respect of human rights and the environment by companies.
“The modules were interactive and very interesting, I am satisfied with the exchanges and the participatory approach that allowed to draft an advocacy strategy. We thank you for allowing us to work on new topics and we hope that there will be a follow-up to the project”, says one of the women who participated in the training in Senegal.
During the two trainings, participants mapped human rights and environmental abuses in their countries, and identified the most problematic sectors and companies.
Participants raised the numerous obstacles linked to the documentation of these violations, limiting civil society’s capacity for action: difficulty in accessing information, lack of resources, expertise needed to carry out investigations and to use the data collected, etc. These exchanges underlined the importance of advocacy activities for an effective right to information.
With regard to national legal frameworks, the participants identified the need for an effective application of existing texts, as well as several reforms. Further reflections are needed, in particular on the following issues:
- Fair, effective and culturally appropriate compensation for those expropriated in the public interest. For example, in Senegal, according to the communities and CSOs, law No. 1985/02 of 3 January 1985 repealing and replacing the first paragraph of Article 31 of Law 76-67 of 2 July 1976 on expropriation in the public interest and other land operations in the public interest appears to be obsolete and the scales applied too low. In Benin, local residents affected by infrastructure or development projects do not always seem to be compensated at a fair value either.
- Labour law concerns. For example, in Benin, law No. 2017-05 of 29 August 2017 establishing the conditions and procedure for hiring, placing workers and terminating employment contracts helps to facilitate the termination of contracts and stipulates the indefinite renewal of fixed-term contracts; while in Togo, civil society is concerned about the abusive dismissal of pregnant women and the working conditions in the Free Zone (created by law n° 89-14 of 18 September 1989, the Togolese Free Zone is a special economic zone that allows approved companies to benefit from numerous advantages, notably customs and tax).
- The lack of implementation of the Togolese and Beninese environmental codes, and the need to reform the Senegalese environmental code which dates from 2001 and therefore does not meet current challenges, especially since the discovery of significant oil and gas resources.
The trainers also presented various judicial and non-judicial recourse mechanisms available to civil society and individuals. CSOs were also able to discuss their ongoing legal and advocacy actions.
As a result of the training sessions, three national networks are emerging. In each country, CSOs will soon implement their advocacy strategies towards national institutional actors, as well as their training and awareness-raising plans towards workers whose labour rights are not respected, communities affected by industrial projects, and journalists. La Lumière, RSE Benin and RSE-et-PED Togo are the focal points of these networks, and benefit from the support of Sherpa and RSE-et-PED France in the implementation of their activities.
“I am leaving very happy, strengthened even more by the resources shared during this training. When I return from this training, I will first of all be a relay for other [Togolese] civil society organisations that were not able to make the trip. And also to be part of the network of actors that will be set up in Benin and Togo in order to impact the business environment and the rights of Togolese workers.” Akpegnonwou Delali, NGO Fedia of the Coordination of Women’s Organisations in Togo
*The Vigilance project is supported by the Agence Française de Développement. Nevertheless, the ideas and opinions presented do not necessarily represent those of AFD.