The recent discoveries of minerals in Uganda and the aggressive push by the government for foreign direct investment have seen an increase on emphasis on the role of business and corporations in the country’s economy and development efforts. This development invites the question of the relationship between business and human rights or people’s welfare. It is in this context that this study sought to investigate the state of corporate accountability in Uganda. The investigation was organised around three specific questions. The first was whether Uganda has adopted adequate normative standards for corporations and whether those standards, if any, are enforceable. The second question was about the impact of corporate activities on the communities around which they work and how communities respond to them. The last question sought to find out what civil society organisations in Uganda have done to address the question of corporate accountability.
These questions were addressed by focusing on three major mining centres – Moroto, Mukono and Lake Albertine region – and nine major companies involved in mining there. In Moroto, the study focussed on three limestone mining companies – DAO Africa Ltd, Mechanised Agro Ltd and Tororo Cement – and one gold mining company Jan Mangal Ltd. In Mukono, the study investigated the stone quarrying in Nakisunga by Seyani Brothers and Tong Da China International. In the Lake Albert region, the investigation concentrated on the oil-related developments that have taken place there and three main oil companies – China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), TOTAL E&P and Tullow Oil. Interviews were held with company representatives, members of the communities, relevant government authorities and civil society organisations.
The study reveals that corporations play both a positive and negative role in these rural communities. Members of the respective communities acknowledged several positive impacts of corporations on their lives including the expansion of business and employment opportunities, facilitating access to services such as transport, water and telecommunications, and improving infrastructure such as roads. The communities lauded some corporations for their corporate social responsibility initiatives such as offering scholarships, building health centres, boreholes and schools, and facilitating access to electricity.
However, the communities also highlighted concerns about most of these corporations such as the exploitation of local miners and employees; failure to provide protective gear to local miners and to provide medical care to local miners injured on the mining sites; abuses of land rights and laws; environmental pollution; corruption; failure to provide employment to local people; discrimination of local employees; causing social discord and erosion of moral values; failure to consult with them or to involve them in decisions concerning the acquisition of land, investment permits and mining licences and in the conduct of environmental impact assessments.
Evidently, these concerns cut across all human rights, especially economic, social and cultural rights. What is more, the corporate abuses and violations complained of are happening with the knowledge of, and sometimes committed with the involvement of, the government. They also suggest that the failure by the government to implement the economic, social and cultural rights of the citizens exacerbates poverty especially in rural areas which exposes local people to exploitation by corporations.