opinionBy Joseph Kraus and Jonathan Hershon St-Jean
In cozying up to the Obiang regime, a U.S. foundation ignores the very principles it promotes.
The Leon H. Sullivan Foundation, founded on the legacy of the late civil rights leader and anti-apartheid pioneer Reverend Sullivan, held its 9th biennial Sullivan Summit in Equatorial Guinea last week. In doing so, it is disregarding a global standard of principles created by its namesake and championed by the organization.
The summit, whose theme is "Africa Rising," was billed, in part, as a human rights conference. The organization's choice of host, Equatorial Guinea, has provoked an outcry from many African and international human rights groups over concerns that the summit will be used to polish the tarnished human rights record of Equatorial Guinea's President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo. The Obiang regime, in power for 33 years, has been widely criticized for rights abuses, repression, and corruption.
In response to critics, the foundation appears to have embarked on a public relations campaign for the Obiang regime. In a May press release, the foundation claimed that the Sullivan Summit "will showcase to the international community the advancement Equatorial Guinea has made in human development and the human rights arena," and alleged that President Obiang is "clearly misunderstood by western countries and human rights organizations."This week, a foundation's spokesperson was quoted by the government as stating that Equatorial Guinea is a country "where there is no misery and poverty, and in which any activity can be exercised freely," despite ample evidence to the contrary.
The foundation's CEO, Hope Masters, has challenged critics, referring to reports of abuse and ongoing corruption in Equatorial Guinea as "outrageous", "tawdry" and "outdated". She has accused her critics of failing to check facts or verify "simple truths".
So we checked the facts.
Those facts can then be measured against the Global Sullivan Principles, a corporate code of conduct initiated by the late Rev. Sullivan that remains a leading standard of corporate social responsibility championed by the Sullivan Foundation. If the Global Sullivan Principles were applied to the regime of President Obiang, would it pass the test?
We thought it might be interesting to find out. So we tweaked the Global Sullivan Principles to make them applicable to a government instead of a corporation. Modified text is noted with brackets and underlines.
Does the Obiang regime pass the test? You decide.
As a (company) government which endorses the Global Sullivan Principles we will respect the law, and as a responsible member of society we will apply these Principles with integrity consistent with the legitimate role of (business) governing . We will develop and implement (company) government policies, procedures, training and internal reporting structures to ensure commitment to these Principles throughout our (organization) government . We believe the application of these Principles will achieve greater tolerance and better understanding among peoples, and advance the culture of peace.
Accordingly, we will:
Global Sullivan Principle #1
Express our support for universal human rights and, particularly, those of our employees citizens , the communities within which we operate, and parties with whom we do business.
The U.S. State Department reports the occurrence of "[m]ajor human rights abuses," including arbitrary arrest or detention, torture, harassment, denial of basic political rights, and extreme censorship."
Global Sullivan Principle #2
Promote equal opportunity for our (employees) citizens at all levels of the (company) society with respect to issues such as color, race, gender, age, ethnicity or religious beliefs, and operate without unacceptable (worker) citizen treatment such as the exploitation of children, physical punishment, female abuse, involuntary servitude, or other forms of abuse.
Human rights abuses in Equatorial Guinea include "discrimination against women; trafficking in persons; discrimination against ethnic minorities; and restrictions on labor rights," according to the U.S. State Department.
Global Sullivan Principle #3
Respect our (employees') citizens' voluntary freedom of association.
Civil society activities are restricted. The government has thwarted several recent attempts to hold peaceful protests. The government limits freedom of movement through the use of security checkpoints.
Global Sullivan Principle #4
(Compensate our employees to) Enable citizens to meet at least their basic needs and provide the opportunity to improve their skill and capability in order to raise their social and economic opportunities.
According to the UNDP, Equatorial Guinea had the largest gap between per capita income and Human Development Index ranking. A majority of the population still lacks adequate access to basic services such as electricity and running water.
Global Sullivan Principle #5
Provide a safe and healthy (workplace) place to live ; protect human health and the environment; and promote sustainable development.
According to the United Nations, Equatorial Guinea has the 19th highest child mortality rate in the world, with nearly one in eight children dying before age five. The government has prioritized high profile infrastructure projects – like the government financed $830 million luxury Sipopo resort where the Sullivan Summit will take place – over social spending.
Global Sullivan Principle #6
Promote (fair competition) good governance including respect for intellectual and other property rights, and not offer, pay or accept bribes.
Government corruption is widespread, The U.S. Department of Justice alleges that President Obiang's son, Teodorín, spent over $300 million on luxury goods between 2000 and 2011, using extortion and other illicit schemes to enrich himself while the Minister of Agriculture and Forestry.
Global Sullivan Principle #7
Work with (governments) civil society and communities (in which we do business) to improve the quality of life in those communities – their educational, cultural, economic and social well being–and seek to provide training and opportunities for (workers) citizens from disadvantaged backgrounds.
According to a speech by President Obiang, the government spent just 0.91% of its GDP on education in 2009. Government officials monitor the activities of political opposition members, civil society, and journalists. Freedom House give s Equatorial Guinea its worst rating for civil liberties.
Global Sullivan Principle #8
Promote the application of these Principles by those with whom we do business.
The government requires foreign companies to abide by local content laws and to invest in social development projects in the country.
Global Sullivan Principle #9
We will be transparent in our implementation of these Principles and provide information that demonstrates publicly our commitment to them.
The government fails to publish budget information, making it difficult for citizens to assess government performance or accountability. Meanwhile, the Obiang regime spent more than $13 million in the U.S. between 2000 and 2011 on lobbyists and public relations firms – and an undisclosed amount on the Sullivan Summit – in an effort to improve its international image.