The 6th of April, the Norwegian Embassy in Dar es Salaam and FOKUS - the Norwegian Forum for Women arranged a workshop on human rights due diligence for business, focusing on how to include the gender perspective when carrying out social and environmental impact assessments. The event gathered several Norwegian companies operating in Tanzania, as well as representatives from other Embassies and civil society organizations. This was a follow up event to a 2016 workshop with the same theme.
In her opening remarks, the Norwegian Ambassador in Tanzania, Hanne-Marie Kaarstad emphasized that respect for human rights is an integral part of Norwegian companies’ business operations in Tanzania. She was thus pleased to have most of the largest Norwegian companies operating in the Tanzania at the seminar as it underscores their commitment to corporate social responsibility.
FOKUS, the moderators of the workshop, introduced the topic with a presentation on why it is important for businesses to address women’s rights. They stated that as the Private Sector has an increasingly relevant role in the development work globally, businesses have the potential to extensively affect society. The effects can be both positive - through providing job opportunities, improved living standards or economic growth, but also negative – through i.e. displaced communities, exploitation of workers or by spiking already existing inequalities and tensions. Human rights due diligence is frequently carried out a gender-neutral basis. However, women are often disproportionally impacted by businesses’ activities, making the companies prone to miss the most salient risk. Thus, FOKUS stated that it is important to incorporate women’s rights explicitly when companies conduct their Human Rights Due Diligence, for both their social responsibility, but also their bottom line.
At the workshop the participants shared their experiences on safeguarding women’s rights issues across the public, private and civil society sphere. The discussion identified a range of risks in both internal operations, e.g. through ensuring equal pay and women representation, and through their external processes, e.g. the risk of harming land and water resources or gender-based violence and sexual harassment in the supply chain. The companies expressed that even though they were willing to undertake the necessary measures to mitigate the identified risks, especially the smaller companies do not have the resources to work actively on gender issues.
In response to the challenges expressed by the companies, FOKUS presented some possible solutions. Firstly, they emphasized that the focus initially should be to build robust systems of doing no harm before implementing programs of doing good. Additionally, they are developing a gender sensitive due diligence tool to support companies in being able to identify risks, develop strategies to respond to them and to navigate in the jungle of women’s issues guidelines and principles that already exists.
The Embassy has a specific focus on Corporate Social Responsibility in its work with the private sector. As one of the largest contributors to FDI from Europe to Tanzania, it is expected that Norwegian companies contribute not only in terms of core business, but also by being responsible companies who pay tax and do no harm.