The Asia-Pacific region has long been synonymous with economic dynamism. Over the last few decades, the volume of capital and trade flows has ballooned in the region, and hundreds of millions of people have been lifted out of poverty. By some estimates, Asia Pacific will become the world’s largest economic region by 2030. The centrality of trade and foreign direct investment to Asia’s economic growth now means that consumer concerns and business ethics take centre stage for many Asian states.
Against the backdrop of rapid economic development, however, the region has witnessed a growing trend in the violation of human rights by companies in their business operations in three key areas: environmental, labour and land rights. This has been exemplified by contaminated water sources from steel plants in Ha Thinh in Vietnam, illegal deforestation in Malaysian Borneo, and the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh.
Companies have resorted to illegal land appropriation against indigenous peoples in Papua province in Indonesia, whilst economic growth has translated into the violation of workers’ rights in the Thai seafood industry. Such violations require innovative, regional solutions that foster local ownership.
UNDP Asia-Pacific has worked since 2014 to address this. The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), unanimously adopted by the Human Rights Council in 2011, provide a framework that enhances standards and practices in addressing adverse business impacts on human rights conditions.
At UNDP, we advocate for the implementation of the UNGPs with governments, business, civil society and indigenous peoples’ groups. This work has been conducted through the organization of multi-sector stakeholder dialogue and hybrid capacity-building events.
In addition, we work closely with National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) to improve their capacity, in particular their promotion and protection systems, to handle business and human rights cases. This enables NHRIs to effectively tackle national and transboundary cases and function as strong mediators for rights-holders. We also seek to facilitate a process of peer-learning between states.
UNDP has achieved significant success in Southeast Asia, cooperating with governments to develop National Action Plans (NAPs) on business and human rights. Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand received technical support in developing NAPs. Malaysia and Thailand are two of the first Asian nations to begin development of NAP drafting processes, closely followed by Indonesia’s incorporation of a business and human rights component into a wider human rights strategy.