Multinationals and land grabbing in Uganda: A business human rights perspective

samuel_matsikoAuthor: Samuel Matsiko
Lawyer, International Justice Mission, USA

On 11 May 2012 the Committee on World Food Security endorsed the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security to promote secure tenure rights and equitable access to land. These Guidelines offer a framework through which multinational investors may acquire and manage land without affecting the rights of local communities. However, this remains on paper while in practice the narrative is different.

In Uganda, land grabbing involves large scale land acquisitions by multinational and domestic investors either through buying or leasing large pieces of land. A study by the National Association of Professional Environments indicates that communities in the oil rich region of Bulisa in western Uganda, Kalangala Island in the Lake Victoria region, Mabira forest in the central region, and Luwunga forest reserve in Kiboga district have been affected or are yet to be affected by the land grabbing phenomenon.

Mabira Forest have been affected or are yet to be affected by the land grabbing phenomenon

On the international scene, the land grabbing phenomenon increased significantly following the 2007-2008 world food economic crisis, this in turn kicked off a global rush to secure land for agriculture. In Uganda, international financial institutions have been accused of funding projects that result in land grabbing and the violation of the local communities’ human rights. The United Nations (UN) International Fund for Agricultural Development; the World Bank; Oil Palm Uganda Limited; Willmar, a Singapore-based conglomerate specialising in palm oil; and BIDCO Uganda Limited, an oil processing company invested approximately $31.9 million dollars in acquiring approximately 10,000 hectares of land in Kalangala Island in the Lake Victoria region. This acquisition negatively affected the local communities particularly by exposing them to health risks due to agro inputs used in the plantations, food insecurity, erosion of biodiversity, and by violating of basic human rights (such as the right to safe and clean drinking water).

Land grabbing in Uganda is an emerging human rights challenge that will not only affect the local communities but also the business climate in the great lakes region. Multinational must realise that guaranteeing and respecting the local communities’ fundamental human rights is not only morally correct, but also a smart business decision to make. On 16 June 2011, the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution which endorsed a set of Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights which outline how states and businesses should implement the UN’s “Protect, Respect and Remedy” Framework in order to better manage business and human rights challenges. This Framework provides a global standard for preventing and addressing the risk of adverse impacts on human rights linked to business activity. However despite the effort by the UN to set up a working group on the implementation and dissemination of the guiding principles, there is concern on certain weakness of the principles.

The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights fail to sufficiently address the right to an effective remedy and the need for states’ measures to prevent abuses committed by their companies overseas. For example, if a Swiss multinational nutritional snack food company, Nestle were to invest in palm oil production or wheat farming in Uganda, would the Swiss government take the necessary measures to prevent any abuses that may likely occur?  Therefore it is important that states adopt positions which are consistent with their human rights obligations.

Uganda is a signatory to a number of international human rights instruments and has even taken steps to ratify a number of these instruments. Uganda ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) on 21 June 1995. Article 1.2 of the ICCPR provides that all peoples may pursue their economic, social and cultural goals, and manage and dispose of their own resources and recognises a right of a people not to be deprived of its means of subsistence. Uganda should realize that development does not operate in a vacuum, development must be complimented by human and land rights and the two ought to co-exist in order to have real sustainable development.

In a nutshell, human rights encompass and touches on every aspect of our lives and must be guaranteed and respected at all times. Multinationals interests and the interests of the Ugandan government should not infringe upon the rights of others, and should undertake due diligence before and during any business activity, to ensure such actions are consistent with its obligation to respect and protect human rights.

About the Author:
Samuel Matsiko is a human rights lawyer working with the International Justice Mission, a US based international non-governmental organization and previously worked as research assistant at Mwebesa, Kakooza & Co. Advocates LLP. He holds a Bachelor of laws degree with honours from the Uganda Christian University. He has an interest in international criminal justice, business human rights, and African human rights law.

2 Comments on “Multinationals and land grabbing in Uganda: A business human rights perspective”

  1. I encourage responsible investment for a sustainable prosperity that benefits posterity. Thus, responsible investment conduce to sustainable development.

  2. Ogez Oji Ajoku Esq says:

    There should be a synergy between business and human rights. The community has the right to development,and not to be totally shortchanged. There are talents and vocations within the community that ought to be encouraged to excel and ventilate. There are also professionals within the community that ought to be encouraged to explore all laudable options to ply their trade,etc. Africa is not a dark continent,but an emerging economy that needs nurturing and visionary leadership.

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