Businesses should not strive to make profit at the expense of pain experienced by communities and workers. This was the sentiment echoed during the panel discussion on the current state of implementation of Social and Ethics Committees (SECs) in South Africa, at the SEC seminar which took place in Midrand today.
The Chief Director for Legislative Drafting in the Consumer and Corporate Regulation Division at the Department of Trade and Industry (the dti), Dr Ria Nonyana-Mokabane said companies cannot run business at the expense of consumers’ livelihoods, and at the cost of human suffering and pain. She said the common law principle of “die bloedige hand” meant that companies that still prioritise profit-making over human rights have “bloody hands” as they are in receipt of “blood money”.
According to Nonyana-Mokabane, companies cannot run business as usual. She highlighted that it was time to promote corporate justice in business, respect the rights of consumers, employees, communities and business counterparts to boost the economy of the country.
“If South Africa is not able to comply with the simple provision requiring reports on social and ethical trend-lines, what more with the resounding international call that our country is currently responding to, to elaborate on an internationally legally binding Treaty on Business and Human Rights, which again would require companies to comply. This call is a transformational ethics which is emphatic on the fact that companies who treat those vulnerable, such will be used as a moral test of their righteousness and integrity,” she stressed.
The Legal Advisor to the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham), Mr Michael Combrink said the SECs needed to be seen as vehicles to transform and cause companies to be empathetic to the course and the lives of the people and not just as a value driver.
Speaking during the session on approaches to enhance SEC implementation in South Africa, a community activist and member of the Social Justice Coalition in Khayelitsha, Ms Mandisa Dyantyi said communities needed to hold companies accountable for the services they provide.
She highlighted that the community of Khayelitsha had started to hold companies responsible through the social audits with regards provision of services and how the labourers and communities are treated in the process.
“It is important that government holds companies that they outsource services to liable and conduct verification check to assess if companies are compliant with legislation, in this case have working SECs that are active and viable,” said Dyantyi.
She also acknowledged the importance of communities being involved and informed about the role of SECs and empowered to hold companies accountable.