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As we celebrate Human Rights Day on the 21st of March in South Africa and the world marks the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in December this year, it is crucial to reflect on the role and responsibility of businesses, especially large ones, in upholding these universal principles. Businesses can mobilise financial and non-financial resources, which, when successfully put together, can generate immense benefits for society.

The actions of businesses can positively or negatively affect people’s enjoyment of their human rights. Therefore, a human rights-centered approach to business is imperative. At Absa, we take this responsibility seriously and believe that respecting human rights is not only the right thing to do, but also the smart thing to do. We understand that our success as a business is tied to the well-being of our colleagues, customers, suppliers, communities, and stakeholders. That is why we have developed a Human Rights Policy Statement that sets out our commitments to respecting human rights and upholds the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Human rights are a fundamental issue that affects people’s daily lives on the African continent. The challenges they face are complex and multifaceted. Therefore, we believe that our approach to human rights must be holistic, addressing economic, social, and environmental issues that impact our communities. We constantly review our policies and procedures to ensure that they align to our purpose, demonstrate our commitments, and make a positive impact on the world.

Human rights principles and standards form the base upon which the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are founded. The SDGs are a call to action to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity. These SDGs are relevant for the countries Absa operates in on the African continent. Many of the SDGs are linked to basic human rights such as the right to education, health, clean water, and sanitation, and a safe working environment. In contributing to their realisation, Absa takes each country’s specific circumstances into consideration.

As a responsible financial services group, we are focused on developing and offering financial products and services that support inclusion and contribute to improved access by all citizens to financial services in order for people to enjoy adequate living standards.

While access to electricity may not be recognised as a basic human right under international law, its importance and link to socio-economic development and human progress have become evident in many markets where we operate. For example, the ongoing electricity crisis in South Africa is having significant impacts on human rights, including the right to health, education, and work. It is important that steps are taken to address these impacts and ensure that all people in South Africa can fully enjoy their human rights.

In response to the electricity crisis, our Group is collaborating with clients to identify innovative solutions that can reduce energy consumption, increase efficiency, and facilitate the transition to sustainable energy sources. This is an important step towards addressing the impacts of the electricity crisis on human rights in the country.

Our aim is to help our clients minimise the impact of loadshedding on their daily lives and operations, while also contributing to the global goal of mitigating climate change. We have welcomed the recent tax interventions announced by the Minister of Finance Enoch Godongwana, to encourage businesses and households to adopt renewable energy sources, which can boost renewable power production and alleviate the energy crisis.

Central to our business philosophy is treating our customers with dignity and supporting the achievement of equality and fairness. Absa ensures that a customer’s race, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion, or any other status has no bearing on the quality of the service they receive.

While there is still much work to be done to ensure that human rights are respected and protected across the world, including in Africa where Absa has operations, this is an opportune time for businesses to reaffirm their commitment to upholding human rights. It is absolutely the right thing to do and one that also makes strong business sense. DM

By Punki Modise: Group Chief Strategy and Sustainability Officer 


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