By Catherine Sasman
Ten Namibian private companies have made a commitment to the 10 principles of the Global Compact, thereby becoming part of a growing circle of similarly committed companies worldwide.
With the launch of the UN Global Network Namibia last week, Secretary General of the Namibian Employers’ Federation (NEF), Tim Parkhouse, said the Namibian chapter aims to advance corporate social responsibility, whereby companies integrate social and environmental concerns in their business operations and in their interaction with stakeholders on a voluntary basis.
“We believe there are many areas where firms can commit their social responsibility, improve their relations with important stakeholders and customers, including their supply chains, up- and downstream and commercially benefit from understanding and improving their social and environmental footprint,” said Parkhouse.
He said within the UN Global Compact, companies can choose to either become collectively or individually involved.
“The area of engagement collectively, sectorally or individually can be with respect to any of the Global Compact four pillars, namely human rights, labour rights, environment and anti-corruption,” he said.
The former UN Se-cretary General, Kofi Annan, driven by the idea of creating a fairer and more sustainable global market place, started the UN Global Compact in 2000.
In the last eight years, more than 4 000 companies worldwide have joined the initiative and almost 60 networks have been established.
Prime Minister Nahas Angula was upbeat about the initiative, saying that in the long run, it will benefit not only participating companies, but also their employees and surrounding communities.
Angula said the network provides a practical framework for companies interested in learning and benefiting from an increased understanding of sustainable business operations.
He encouraged other sectors like mining, fishing and tourism to join the initiative.
The Namibian network said its initial areas of concern are electricity consumption and waste disposal of especially hazardous materials.
Once the scope of the problem among the member firms and their supply chains has been identified, a learning forum with all interested network members will be organised.
The network said it would investigate ways to promote reduction of electricity usage and waste disposal outside its sphere of influence.
“Ethical behaviour of companies is worth looking at, the Government, the media and civil society, but especially the company itself and everyone who invests in it,” said Parkhouse.
Mike Hill of Pupkewitz Group, one of the participating companies, said citizens in a democracy have a responsibility to participate in the protection of their freedom and rights.
“Silence and acquiescence undermine democracy; there is no ‘they’ who should be speaking out, it is up to us,” Hill said.
Signing up to the 10 principles of the network, said Hill, is a public undertaking to promote and protect a peaceful, democratic and dynamic business and social environment.
Hill said it was regrettable that Government continued to “undermine the rule of law” and the rights of the Namibian workers by awarding tenders to foreign companies, “knowing full well that they do not adhere to the provisions of the Labour Act”.
“This is a doubly dangerous situation – it not only undermines our democracy by flouting the rule of law, it also reduces respect for all negotiated agreements and processes of industrial self-governance by which these agreements are made and signed,” Hill criticised.
He said it was equally disturbing that trade unions have not demanded the enforcement of a freely negotiated and subsequently gazetted agreement, but have “stood silently by” while their members are losing jobs and business.
He called for a free trade union – and not a political party affilia-ted workers’ movement – that would work in the interest of its members.