UN forum urges shift from commitments to action on responsible business and human rights in Asia-Pacific region

The 5th UN Responsible Business and Human Rights Forum for Asia-Pacific closed with a call for stakeholders at all levels to turn commitments to promote business and human rights into action to improve the protection and respect for rights holders across Asia and the Pacific.

June 14, 2023
Panel at the opening session of UN Responsible Business and Human Rights Forum 2023

The United Nations Responsible Business and Human Rights Forum for Asia-Pacific closed with a call for stakeholders at all levels to turn commitments to promote business and human rights into action to improve the protection and respect for rights holders across Asia and the Pacific.

In a joint video message recorded to mark the opening of the Forum, senior representatives of eight UN agencies highlighted the need for accelerated efforts to transform economies and build a more inclusive and sustainable future for all.

The opening session of the forum featured a keynote from women human rights defender Angkhana Neelapaijit. At the heart of her message was a call to improve the protection of human rights defenders speaking up and taking action for greater accountability and remedy in the face of business-related human rights abuses. In particular, she highlighted the devastating impact of judicial harassment by businesses on human rights defenders, which takes away time and resources human rights defenders could otherwise protect human rights and improve society.

Held in Bangkok, Thailand from 6-9 June 2023, the Forum – which was supported by the governments of Sweden, Japan and the European Union – brought together nearly 500 people for constructive dialogue and peer-learning on enhancing responsible business practices and corporate accountability in the region. The Forum shed light on critical issues, challenges, and sectors that demand action from the business and human rights community. 

With 2023 marking the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, this year’s forum also provided an important moment to reflect on the role of the responsible business agenda in a vision for the future of human rights.

Participants engaged in discussions, debate, and knowledge-sharing sessions encompassing a diverse array of topics. These include the regulation of global supply chains, corporate accountability, human rights and environmental due diligence, small-scale fisheries, children’s’ rights, the responsibility of development financiers, and the role of micro-, small, and medium-sized enterprises, among others. The event also brought attention to specific groups at heightened risk of abuses such as Indigenous Peoples, persons with disabilities and children. 

At the core of many of the discussions was how to address power imbalances. One session explored how to ensure meaningful participation of key stakeholders in the decisions and processes that directly affect them. Caroline Brodeur of Oxfam America emphasized the need for engagement to be inclusive and to include those directly affected by operation. "If we want to address power imbalances, we need to provide the tools to enable communities to engage. That means information on what they are consulted on, why they are consulted at that point, and what they can bring to the discussion," she said. She also emphasized the need for businesses to engage directly with those affected by corporate activities. "As a CSO, we can help in directing a company to rights holders, but we are no rights holders," she said.

In another session focused on climate action in Asia, Kaniskh Negi of Schneider Electric highlighted the need to broaden engagement for action to be effective. "Action only by individual companies is not enough to address climate change. We have to engage the entire supply chain," he said. 

Held annually, the United Nations Responsible Business and Human Rights Forum convenes various stakeholders in the Asia-Pacific, including governments, civil society organizations, human rights defenders, trade unions, business enterprises, industry associations, employers’ organizations, international organizations, national and regional human rights institutions, journalists, lawyers, activists and campaigners, and academia.

The 2023 event was held at the United Nations Conference Centre in Bangkok, Thailand. It was co-organized by the International Labour Organization (ILO), International Organization for Migration (IOM), Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), and the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights (UNWG).

In addition, more than 40 partners, including civil society organizations, business associations, and academic institutions, organized 24 side sessions and trainings on the sidelines of the main sessions. 

More information about the Forum can be found at www.rbhrforum.com. To provide feedback and share your thoughts on how we can improve the next forum, please complete this form

Recordings of the sessions are available here and photos from the event can be viewed here. Check out daily recap videos capturing key highlights and a message from the organizers:

6 June: Side Events and Trainings
7 June: Day 1
8 June: Day 2 
9 June: Day 3
Message from the Organizers

Follow the conversation on social media at #RBHR2023.