Business and Human Rights in Asia – 2021 Recap

December 17, 2021

Celebrating the 10th anniversary of the United Nations Guiding Principles on business and human rights, 2021 was a busy year for B+HR Asia, with increasing regional momentum in implementing the UNGPs.

In 2021, Pakistan joined Thailand and Japan as the third country in Asia to adopt a stand-alone National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights. Significant progress toward NAP adoption was made in other countries as well, namely India, Indonesia, Mongolia and Viet Nam. This progress has been supported by regional, multi-stakeholder events that brought together a wide range of stakeholders and spurred a race to the top, including the UN Responsible Business and Human Rights Forum, the UN South Asia Forum on Business and Human Rights, and regional and national conferences and consultations in India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mongolia and Viet Nam. A forthcoming report on the status of business and human rights in Asia will provide greater nuance and reflection to the progress as we move into the next decade of BHR.

B+HR Asia produced a 35-minute news special, titled Asia in Focus, exploring the dynamic and varied nature of business and human rights issues in different countries of the Asia region to support the BHR momentum and reach a wider audience.

Our work on human rights due diligence resources continued from 2020. We published the updated version of the Human Rights Due Diligence and COVID-19 Rapid Self-Assessment for Business, in collaboration with UNICEF, now available in 14 languages. This process included pilots with brands and suppliers in Bangladesh, India and Viet Nam. A report on the impact of COVID on garment workers in Bangladesh illustrated clear recommendations for stakeholders across the global supply chain to ensure accountability and dignity of those least protected and most marginalized, particularly during crisis. 

We also launched a Human Rights Due Diligence Training Facilitation Guide and online Human Rights Self-Assessment Training Tool to help businesses prevent, mitigate, and account for potential human rights abuses in their operations and supply chains, and have carried out a series of national-level trainings across the region in Indonesia, Mongolia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Thailand.  

We also sought to broaden our engagement with other actors, which led to the development of a handbook for journalists, campaigners and communicators on reporting BHR and accompanying trainings. Efforts also included a workshop to build the capacity of scholars across Asia as well as progress to incorporate business and human rights in the curriculum at the National Economic University in Viet Nam. 

B+HR Asia also scaled up its engagement with young people in 2021. B+HR Lab 5 and the Asia session at the UN Forum on Business and Human Rights focused on youth as levers for change. To support young indigenous people and social entrepreneurs, we worked with the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact and UNDP’s Youth Co:Lab to established a small grants facility. 

In an effort to advance change from the ground up, we also supported CSOs through low value grant schemes to offer legal aid services and conduct innovative awareness raising-activities in India, Mongolia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Thailand.

In 2021, we also started laying more emphasis on the interconnections of business, human rights and the environment. Our BHR+Environment survey helped better understand the perceptions of stakeholders in the region about how business activities impact the enjoyment of their rights, which we discussed with an expert panel on a roundtable discussion. Air pollution, the most concerning according to survey respondents, also inspired one of our project managers for a blog while bicycling in Bangkok.  

A series of trainings brought focus and greater understanding of the intersections between gender and business and human rights, with particular focus on the rights of women and the LGBTI community. And a regional workshop brought attention to the importance of land rights in the BHR agenda. 

Our colleagues in India launched a newsletter to share updates on BHR issues trending in the country, the region and around the globe, and published a report on the rights of women migrant workers in the garment industry.

Norimasa Shimomura, UNDP Indonesia’s Resident Representative, published an opinion piece in the Jakarta Post on the importance of conducting human rights due diligence, specifically emphasizing the need to incorporate women’s needs into the process. This focus was also important for the issue brief and video published by the team at the end of the year on the impact of infrastructure development on women’s rights.

With several multi-stakeholder consultations underway, Malaysia’s first National Conference on Business and Human Rights was organized in 2021 as well, with three issue briefs published for the occasion on key BHR issues for Malaysia’s recovery period, strengthening access to remedy and ethical recruitment, and ESG investment policies in Government-Linked Investment Companies.

In Sri Lanka the BHR agenda also moved forward, as our team advocated for the rights of women workers together with CSO partners, supported the sharing of good business practices and published two issue briefs on women's participation in the workforce and the untapped trade and investment potential of the BHR agenda in the country.

In Viet Nam, two codes of conduct for environmentally responsible business practices for the coffee and fruits and vegetables sectors were launched. In addition, the government has recognized the National Action Plan on Responsible Business in conformity with UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights in the 5-year action agenda and has put into place an inter-ministerial and inter-sectoral team to draft the NAP. This progress was supported by two trainings combined with consultations on the baseline assessment.  

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