A forum of business, governments, civil society organisations, unions and international organisations explored how best to leverage international agreements, national legislation, and bottom-up action to further business respect for human rights.
Regional Forum Takes Stock of Business and Human Rights in Asia
October 11, 2022
The 4th United Nations Responsible Business and Human Rights Forum (UNRBHR) – supported by the Government of Sweden, Government of Japan and the European Union – brought more than 400 stakeholders together in Bangkok from 19-22 September to deliberate on how to strengthen responsible business and corporate accountability in the Asia-Pacific region.
This year, the Forum explored themes around harnessing ‘levers of change’ – areas of work with the potential to deliver wide-ranging change in the business and human rights agenda. Sessions delved into strategies that have been effective in promoting business respect for human rights and the environment, and spotlighted novel approaches to accelerate progress.
Across Asia, progress is being made on business and human rights. However, the scale of the challenges remains immense, particularly for vulnerable and marginalised groups such as children, women, indigenous peoples, people with disabilities, or those displaced or affected by migration.
In the opening plenary, Swedish Ambassador to Thailand Jon Åström Gröndahl highlighted the gap between “progress at the top and reality on the ground”, emphasizing the need for greater collaboration to move from promises to meaningful action.
Regional heads from the nine UN agencies co-organizing the Forum echoed this sentiment in an address to delegates via a video statement. Calling for urgent and coordinated responses to the Asia Pacific region’s myriad challenges. "Let us act to build forward better, to identify fair and durable solutions for the people of today and the generations of tomorrow," the statement said.
The Forum comes in the wake of positive developments in human rights due diligence, including a growing shift from voluntary to mandatory consideration of human rights in business interactions and supply chains. A session on policy developments in Japan and their impact on Asia provided an overview of recent developments in Japan. This included an introduction to the Guidelines on Respecting Human Rights in Responsible Supply Chains – launched by the Government of Japan the week before the Forum – by Gen Nakatani, Special Advisor to the Prime Minister of Japan for international human rights issues. This was followed by a discussion on globalization, shifts in global power dynamics, and how these may affect awareness and action on human rights in Asia.
Other panels covered themes increasingly shaping the business and human rights agenda. A session on access to remedy explored the potential of leveraging ‘pressure points’ to trigger action on the part of business decision makers to take the concerns of rights holders seriously and address them in a meaningful way, as well as examples of how this strategy has been used in Asia. It also introduced the upcoming BHR Access to Justice Lab, which will be conducted by Macquarie University and UNDP. Continuing to look at how to engage greater action from the bottom, experts in a session looking at the role of citizens, consumers and the media looked at strategies to better leverage these audiences to shape the business and human rights agenda and influence business stakeholders.
Panellists in a session on Asia’s environmental priorities reflected on what is needed to ensure the twin resolution by the UN General Assembly and Human Rights Council on the right to a clean and healthy environment will result in meaningful impact on the ground. Clear leverage points identified to address environmental harms included action to protect environmental human rights defenders, the use of incentives and regulations that reflect a better understanding of the business realities in Asia, and greater use of mandatory measures to set a standard for compliance.
The Forum also hosted safe space sessions for civil society, businesses, and governments, which continue to be a critical space for exchange. This was clearly demonstrated in the closed-door discussions among officials from governments of Laos PDR, Nepal, Pakistan, and Thailand, each of which are at different points in the development and implementation of national action plans on business and human rights.
A safe space session organized for civil society actors – co-organized by UNDP, Forum Asia, and the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre – featured a conversation between civil society representatives, indigenous peoples, and human rights defenders and four current and former UN Special Procedures, including Pichamon Yeophantong, Member for Asia-Pacific States of the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights, and Tomoya Obokata, UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery.
For businesses, a workshop on implementing the UNGPs was hosted by UNDP, Global Business Initiative on Human Rights, and the International Chamber of Commerce in partnership with the Responsible Business Alliance and the Global Compact Network, Thailand.
Other topics before the more than 20 roundtables and panels included promoting labour rights and gender equality, protecting children's rights, access to justice, responding to conflict and corruption, supporting environmental human rights defenders and collective challenges including climate change and environmental degradation. Session recordings can be viewed online.
Read key takeaways from the sessions in the Forum report.
More than 500 delegates joined the forum in person – with 850 people joining the sessions virtually – representing governments, civil society organisations, human rights defenders, trade unions, academia, international organisations, national human rights institutions, business enterprises, and industry associations, as well as journalists, lawyers, and activists.
Hosts of the UN Responsible Business and Human Rights Forum include the International Labour Organization (ILO), the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), and the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights (UNWG).
Recordings of the Forum are available here, and information about this year’s sessions and speakers and past forums is available on the Forum website: www.rbhrforum.com.
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