Article 17, Universal Declaration on Human Rights: "Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others"

In most industrialized countries, the right to property is a matter of course. It is such an integral part of societal life that its enshrinement in human rights and importance often go unnoticed.

But why is the right to property such an important human right?

Owning property and defending it is one of the strongest rights of defense that an individual can have in their relationship to the state.

If property rights are weak, the state can also weaken the individual by first threatening to take away the property or actually seizing it. In many cases, deprivation of property not only makes the victim weaker, but also reduces their ability to become a productive, full-fledged member of society.

In this context, property rights are also a fundamental prerequisite for the functioning of markets, which have enabled impressive human progress and innovation. Curtailment of the right to property means cutting people off from the welfare-enhancing potential of the markets and its associated improvement of their lives, thus condemning them to a life of poverty.

Of course, the right to property does not apply absolutely. The state may have to expropriate someone’s home to build a railway, for example. Cases in which property can be expropriated must, however, be clearly and narrowly defined. The expropriation has to be per-formed in a fair and justified manner and the owner must be compensated for the loss. Such a restriction counteracts possible arbitrariness.

In direct conflict with these principles of the human right to property, the South African government is currently pushing for a constitutional amendment to explicitly enable expropriation without compensation. This specifically concerns the right to property clause in the so-called requirements specification. The government has announced an initiative without having even published a single document on this topic. The government is ignoring the individual recommendations of its own high-ranking advisory body as well as the results of a citizen survey. In doing so, the government is seriously impairing South Africa's prospects in terms of local and foreign investments that are urgently needed, preventing more people being freed from poverty.

Partner organizations of the Foundation such as the Democratic Alliance, the Helen Suzman Foundation, the Free Market Foundation and the Institute of Race Relations (IRR) reject the government's anti-ownership policy. Our partners have organized international conferences, launched multimedia campaigns and conducted comparative studies on property rights. The IRR collected over 50,000 signatures against expropriation without compensation in South Africa and presented it to the parliament.

South Africa's economy is currently in a state of crisis and its unemployment rate is high. Guaranteed property rights are key to promoting long-term growth and creating prosperity for all citizens while pursuing a more stable human rights situation. The Foundation and its partners will also be committed to this in the future.



Markus Löning

Since the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights were adopted by the UN in 2011, many companies have asked themselves how they can live up to their responsibility for human rights. While large companies are dealing with this topic in depth, medium-sized enterprises often feel overwhelmed by its complexity.

For approximately 600 German companies, there is a legal duty to exercise human rights due diligence. However, all other companies are under pressure to respect human rights, too. Here are a few examples for these pressures: Millennials prefer to pursue careers that give them the opportunity to make a difference in a company that lives up to its social responsibility. In the competition for talent, sustainable business practices and respect for human rights thus often tip the scales.

Companies have long ignored the fact that cacao from West Africa is often linked to child labor or that palm oil from Indonesia may involve slash-and-burn practices and the eviction of residents, to name but two examples. In light of the globally connected world of social media, this poses a risk that is no longer acceptable. If accusations become public, companies face damage to their reputation, loss of revenue and possibly even civil liability.

Major retail chains and industrial companies now demand proof from suppliers that they know and manage their human rights risks. Whoever is unable to demonstrate this, risks losing their supplier status. This can be an existential threat to medium-sized companies.

To limit risks, institutional investors expect the companies they invest in to have professional risk management, also with respect to human rights. The EU Commission is currently working on an official definition of requirements, that “sustainable” investments need to fulfill. The ILO core labor standards – a significant component of human rights in supply chains – are part of the conditions in this respect.

Companies thus are subjected to pressures from all sides. Yet, there is no clear stipulation as to exactly what the required human rights due diligence is. There are plenty of non-binding rules. However, due to their sheer number, they tend to create confusion instead of giving orientation. In that sense, it would be helpful, if government clearly defines its expectations and sets a standard in the form of a supply chain regulation, ideally for the entire EU single market.

The UN Guiding Principles prescribe five elements of due diligence: a commitment to human rights by the company management, identification of risks, measures to mitigate risks, reporting on risks and measures as well as a suitable grievance mechanism. This may sound simple, but it is a challenge for companies.

In the end, it is all about protecting the rights of those people, who make a substantial contribution to our prosperity. Giving companies direction with the help of a supply chain law regarding human rights due diligence would be an important step in the right direction.

Markus Löning

Strategy Adviser on Business

and Human Rights, former

German government’s Human

Rights Commissioner



Experts will discuss
best practice examples
on business and human rights.

Goods and services drive the global economy – from global technology giants to local retail businesses. Despite their differences, all companies bear responsibility for conducting themselves in an ethical manner when dealing with their employees and also with respect to the manufacture of their products. To obtain a differentiated perspective regarding the issue of corporate responsibility, the Foundation arranged for a delegation of business representatives and human rights activists from around the world to travel to the United States. Afterwards, participants also had the opportunity to share ideas with other experts in a webinar.

Who is responsible for protecting human rights in the business environment? That was the question put to David Snyder, Director of the Business Law Program at the American University. The answer, at first glance, seems simple – everyone shares in the responsibility in the end.

"I think that for the most part there is widespread consensus worldwide in this area."

Nonetheless, Snyder added that not everyone is able to assume equal responsibility. The goal has to be that the protection of human rights is legally enshrined and designed in such a way that measures can be effectively implemented at the operative level in companies.

Diane Orentlicher, Professor of International Law at the American University, agreed and noted that moving business and human rights forward can only be assumed by a large number of different actors.

"To achieve a practical solution, everyone must be involved until true consensus is achieved on what the standards and expectations are to be. A truly remarkable development is that international CEOs have spoken out in an unprecedented manner in recent years, addressing social issues."

Orentlicher insisted on governments remaining primarily responsible for the protection of human rights. However, the weaker the rule of law, the more the responsibility shifts to other actors. The degree of responsibility of companies operating globally may be subject to how established the rule of law is in the respective country.

Bobbie Sta. Maria, Director of Labor Law and Asia at the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, emphasized the influence employees have on the question of responsibility:

"I love the example of employees in Silicon Valley, who used their influence to prevent their companies from accepting contracts that invade the private sphere of people."

These employees are standing up not only for themselves, but for others, too. In doing so, they become stakeholders, who have received too little attention to date, in the discussion regarding responsibility for human rights in the business world.

Civil society can contribute to overcoming different views among those involved, noted David Snyder, but only if everyone is sitting at the same table: "It is very unfortunate that civil society, non-governmental organizations and companies are often at odds with one another. At the same time, I am repeatedly surprised when occasionally I am invited to discuss issues of civil society by just how few businesspeople are in attendance. Whether this is due to the fact that they have not been invited or because most civil organizations do not give any priority to the participation of business representatives – I don't know."

Diane Orentlicher remains positive and is convinced that NGOs and business can work better together:

"One of the most important tasks for NGOs is to continue providing companies with expertise. No one understands the effects of human rights issues on local companies better than local interest groups. As long as both sides fail to cooperate, they will not be able to find an effective solution to the complex challenges facing companies."



Every summer, the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom together with the International Institute of Human Rights (IIDH) of Strasbourg, the West African Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the national Senegalese Human Rights Commission organizes a summer academy. The event focuses each year on a different human rights issue, one that most closely relates to the political situation in the country.

Legal professionals, security personnel, journalists and human rights activists receive training during the course. The aim is not only to train them in legal expertise, but also to convey human rights as liberal values and to raise the participants’ awareness of civil liberties and tolerance overall.

For Senegal, "Business and Human Rights" continues to be a current topic in light of its own oil and gas production due to start up in 2021 as well as economic growth flanked by massive foreign investment. As in many developing countries, there is also the risk that economic progress and growth will be negatively impacted if the risks of environmental destruction, wage dumping or life-threatening working conditions are ignored.

"Here in Senegal, we believe that we must promote sustainable economic policy."

– Jo Holden,
head of the local office of the Foundation.

The participants at the summer academy were advised of existing options for taking action in the area of human rights. Based on the " UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights" implemented by the UN in 2011, topics discussed included the structuring of corporate responsibility in the area of human rights – primarily as part of the creation of value chains with international links. Specific questions and cases of legal problems at the level of international law or international business law were analyzed in combination with various legal systems.

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