Author : Sahr Nouwah
Site of publication: Social science research network
Type of publication: Article
Date of publication: November 2022
In Liberian, both in law and practice, the country’s established system on disability is complex and not clearly defined especially for responsible business conduct (RBC) and as such, businesses are not under any form of a distinct obligation to ensure inclusive services and practices are enshrined within the corporate practice. However, as a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability including other human rights instruments such as the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, the Convention on the Rights of Children, and many others, we can clearly see the relevance to upholding our international obligations both regional and international be it public or private.
The Liberian Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), for instance, has endeavored to include
requirements in policies such as the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Resilience Strategy (2020-2030), the National Climate Change Response Strategy (2018), and the National Adaptation Plan (2020-2030) all to provide clear benchmarks, even though their enforcement and real implementation remain questionable. Foreign companies are encouraged, but not required, to publicly disclose their policies, procedures, and practices to highlight their RBC practices.
Background to the Liberia’s Banking Sector
As of 2022, there are ten (10) commercial banks operating in Liberia, with only one nationally owned. The Central Bank of Liberia remains and serves as the regulatory arm of the government of Liberia that oversees the operations of all commercial Banks in the country. In terms of total assets, the banking sector accounts for at least 85 percent of the total assets within the financial system, according to the Central Bank of Liberia’s (CBL) own publication (International Trade Administration, 2022-08-03).
This is relevant to say, that in terms of wealth distribution in Liberia holding on to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and ensuring that no one is left behind, the private sector, especially the banking sector has a crucial role to play in the inclusion of persons with disabilities (PWD) within the financial system both as employees and as clients having equal rights and enjoying their fullest rights, equity and opportunities as provided by international and national instruments.
As of 2020, Liberia had a population of 5.05 million, with 49.7 percent being female, and 50.3 percent being male. Liberia has a GDP per capita estimated at US$190.2, making it one of the poorest countries in the world. Poverty is pervasive and is particularly acute in rural areas. According to the 2010 Human Development Index (HDI) report, Liberia was ranked 162 out of 169 countries, with 84% of the population living on less than $1.25 USD per day (UNICEF 2020).
The socio-economic status of families is weak. The rate of violence against women and children especially girls is high including girls and women with disabilities. Women and often their children experience neglect, abuse, exploitation, and violence, at home, in the community, and at school and this may even be worse for women and girls with disabilities.
There is a huge appreciation for advocacy and charitable acts which have been given due attention by many non-governmental organizations (NGOs); civil society organizations (CSOs), and workers’ organizations/unions including private individuals who provide services and gifts to observable persons with disabilities who either beg or show the need for assistance.
These organizations also promote or monitor foreign government policies and practices. However, NGOs and CSOs monitoring or advocating for improvement do not conduct their activities in a structured and coordinated manner, nor do they tend to monitor locally owned companies including the banking sector on disability inclusion.
This research becomes relevant because the situation of persons with disabilities has failed to be segmented and previous literature has focused on the type of and the effects of disabilities on the population. There has been no specific research within the country that targets the business community with hard questions to propel actions. For instance, UNDP’s (2018) research on Liberia’s disability community, which may be the most comprehensive and up-to-date literature focuses on ‘’How multidimensional poverty affects well-being among individuals with disabilities and their families in Liberia and examines the effects that existing policies have on the lives of persons with disabilities.
Actions and Inactions by Banks in Liberia
Banks in Liberia provide general services to everyone- anyone who is willing to open an account and willing to abide by their rules and systems. While there is no uniformity in the services and the processes involved, at least, there are similarities in terms of requirements for opening an account, withdrawing, and benefits accrued on the different types of accounts.
The below actions are actions collated that were either taken or seem to be taken to ensure legal and ethical compliance by Banks (Eco Bank for example) even though they remain available for their improvement and future concretization into outputs can be measured. It is further noted that such efforts has positive impact on the lives of persons with disabilities.
Absence Policy and Internal Strategies
For Eco-Bank for instance, the Human Resources Policy is carved and guided by the Liberia Labor Law and policies. However, there are no standalone policies on disability inclusion and if it exists, it is not in use – evidenced by observation and the lack of disability-friendly spaces and services in the banking halls. Similarly, many banks have existing complaints mechanisms.
And while there is a system in place to receive complaints from customers, this system is not disability friend, banking halls are guided and protected by outsourced security persons who are not trained in customer service, and instead of protecting the banking properties, they have instituted their own rigid rules that take away senior officials from the public contact – this suggests that these officials are not easily accessible to the public and cannot interact to learn from public concerns- suggesting that since persons with disabilities are known to be beggars (a stereotype popular in Liberia), they will not easily talk to any banking staff within the bank premises.