Assessments of Human Rights Compliance on Corporations in South Africa

a tool used by Khulumani support group in its effort at unlocking civic competence.

Claske Dijkema, October 2009


  • corporate accountability
  • empowerment
  • human rights
  • South Africa

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In an interview, Marjorie Jobson, the national director of Khulumani Support Group, explained how holding corporations accountable can be an important tool for empowering socially and economically marginalised people. Below she discusses the Masisibheke tool to monitor the operations of corporates in communities and how it was used for the assessment of human rights compliance of SASOL and Checkers/Shoprite. In her own words:

« Khulumani’s most significant programme for developing civic competence has probably been the development of a project to monitor business compliance with human rights norms and standards in collaboration with 4 other civil society organisations and with the South African Human Rights Commission.

Khulumani employed members and associates to implement a questionnaire that was modified from the original questionnaire on corporate compliance with human rights – the assessment tool produced by the Danish Institute for Human Rights. The full questionnaire contains some 360 questions. This is beyond the capacity of individuals to successfully administer in face-to-face interviews. We therefore collaboratively, developed a South African version of the Danish tool called Masisibheke to make available to ordinary South Africans to use to monitor the operations of corporates in their communities. It comprises a check list to evaluate where corporates are failing in the treatment of their workforce, with a special focus on issues that are ranked as high alerts areas for South Africa such as housing, land, racial discrimination, health issues - the issues that are critical human rights issues in South Africa, given our history. That became a way in which Khulumani members could evaluate the human rights record and compliance of companies in their local areas. This was hugely empowering - having a community being able to assess the operations of a corporate, even in the limited way Khulumani has been able to achieve this.

The Masisibheke tool added to Khulumani’s struggles to promote corporate accountability at the international level through our use of the Alien Tort Claims Act.

Using Human Rights Compliance Assessments on Corporations

Khulumani first applied the human rights compliance assessment tool to SASOL, one of South Africa’s multinational petrochemical companies. The context was our membership group at Sasolburg in the Northern Free State where SASOL illegally dismissed 2,400 workers in 1987 for taking part in an approved strike. Khulumani has been advocating for justice for these workers and their families – one of the country’s most shameful industrial human rights tragedy, especially because the strike led SASOL’s management to call in the notorious riot police, resulting in the deaths of some 77 SASOL workers – more than the number of people killed in the nearby Sharpeville Massacre of 1960. SASOL committed to engaging with this Khulumani group in finding ways of redressing this shameful past – but every engagement to date with SASOL’s Senior Management has produced no results, while SASOL has been found guilty of price-fixing and other harmful corporate practices.

Khulumani’s subsequent application of the tool was to the CHECKERS / SHOPRITE retail chain in South Africa against the background of some of its harmful practices such as the use of unregulated labour broking services that have left increasing numbers of staff more vulnerable than previously.

Our concern has been around trying to ensure that this massive retail chain that is expanding into many other African countries does not perpetuate similar practices in these surrounding countries with their limited capacity to monitor and secure corporate accountability. Khulumani has expanded its programme to ensure accountability of the public sector.