Samedi, Juin 24, 2017

The CDC from the notebook of a human rights reporter in training

The CDC from the notebook of a human rights reporter in training

Limbe (Cameroon), The 13 – 15 September 2016

It was a frank but sincere exchange between 30 media professionals drawn from the North West, South West and Littoral Regions of Cameroon and officials of Cameroon’s second largest employer the CDC aimed at cross checking the human rights record of the 69 years old cooperation.

Coming within a three-day workshop organized by the United Nations Center for Human Rights and Democracy in Central Africa on human rights and business from 13 – 15 September, 2016 in Limbe South West Region, the media professionals used the knowledge acquired during the training to dick deep into the corporation’s human rights record vis-à-vis its cooperate social responsibility policy and activities.

Cardinal amongst the issues handled prior to the discussions were specific instruments related to human rights and business like the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, the International Labour Organisation declaration on multinational companies and the UN Global Compact.

Brief History of the CDC Created in 1947

with agro industrial activities in the North West and South West regions of Cameroon, the CDC processes and markets Banana, Palm Oil and semi-finished Rubber. Since its inception reports say, the company has gone through many challenges in ensuring its sustenance and as such adopted several development and management strategies to uphold its ideals. It is in a bit to keep these ideals Manyaye Paul explained, that the government set out for a privatization plan in 1993/94. The Tea Department was in 2002 privatized to the Cameroon Tea Estates leaving the CDC only with the banana, palm and rubber components.

In a presentation of the over 22000 man strong corporation to the media professionals, Manyaye Paul Ikome Public Relations Manager was emphatic that his corporation being an agro-industrial company with intensive labour in demand, respecting basic human rights is mandatory. To do this the manager outlined CDC’s activities like the provision of 100% medical coverage for employees and direct family members like children and wives, complete housing with sanitation facilities, water and electricity, roads infrastructure, schools for workers children, sports and leisure infrastructure and others amenities for local communities.

Arguing that the CDC as a parastatal has the primary interest to contribute to the development of Cameroon, Manyanye noted that profits realized go to serve this purpose. He enumerated a wide range of CSR activities undertaken by the company within the local communities to highlight the need to ensure that the local community feels ownership of the company.

Acknowledging that lodging camps might have had some limitations in the past hence leading to cases of human rights violations, the PR manager stated that there has been a significant improvement particularly with the Camps and delivery of medical care in the recent past.

Enter the UN Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Central Africa

With different presentations by Kiven Fonyuy of the United Nations Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Central Africa and Dr Ndi Richard of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), the media professionals were empowered with skills to enable them monitor compliance and implementation of human rights by corporate bodies in Cameroon. The training also raised awareness for ownership of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights by media professionals, identified and explained the importance and role of media to ensure that the Guiding Principles are implemented in Cameroon and assisted participants to identify, document and disseminate information on progress and best practices of human rights in business activities.

Living the reality on the field – the Njonji and Idenau experience

In a bit to appreciate the submissions by the PR Manager, the UN Centre took the media professionals for a field visit to the Njoji palm plantation camp and the Idenau industrial Palm Mill.

Close to Africa’s wettest place Debuncha, rain is a part of life in Njoji. On arrival in the camp, CDC employees like construction workers could be seen going about their activities with near disregard for the rain. It is a completely new camp with several rooms and apartments ready for use and construction of senior staff houses and toilets ongoing.

Holding her eight months old baby, Juliette wife of one of the workers said “since we are here to work we are happy. The house is good but I have only two things that worry me here.” Pointing at the toilet she added “look at the toilet it is too close to our house and it smells at times and then we have a place here where we go to when we are sick but for my child at times I will have to rush somewhere else because at times the nurse may not be there or there may be no drugs and so I can’t wait to follow the procedure which can be long.” This alongside other issues like stagnant water pointed to a few human rights problems that still existed and that needed immediate attention.

One of the workers who spoke on condition of anonymity acknowledged that there was a school nearly where workers sent their children but confessed he rather preferred to send his to a private school. The reasons were not immediately explained. Combining these worries the PR Manager explained that camp life was not compulsory and that staff who opted to live outside the camps were paid a particular sum to careter for their accommodation. Another anonymous source confirmed the assertion saying “I will be going on retirement soon and my salary is 200.000 francs. This is because I do not live in the camp and so they calculate the money for the camp house and add to my salary.” The CDC from the notebook of a human rights reporter in training

At the Idenau Industrial Palm Mill, a good number of women could be seen at work. “They are cleaning the processing line.” Efosi Luma Mechanical Supervisor said. The number of women seen in a strength demanding department like the Palm mill was strange. Efosi Luma herself embarrassed me with her function and some intersting facts when she said “there are over 40 women working here and amongst them two welders.” This cleared my gender discrimination thoughts but however kept doubts over issues of safety as the women could be seen moving in the mill without self protective items like rain boots, jackets, gloves and helmets. George Luma, Chief laboratory technologist who received the media professionals explained that all workers at the mill are provided with self protective items but since there was annual maintenance going on, the workers and visitors could be allowed in the mill without any form of protection.

The media professionals returned to base with a sense of satisfaction judging from what was gathered relating to the rights of employees and corporate social responsibility of the CDC. However, the journalists noted that intensifying education on family planning and birth control amongst others could effectively help the employees enjoy a more decent life.

The media professionals left limbe equipped for the sensitization of stakeholders on the respective responsibilities for greater consideration of local and indigenous rights in trade agreements and business activities.

By Bakah Derick back from Limbe, with contributions from the UNCHRD