How are women redefining business integrity in ASEAN?
April 10, 2023
Southeast Asia remains to be one of the fastest-growing regions[i], with relatively quick economic recovery post-Covid19. There are some challenges that the region should pay close attention and tackle in order to maintain sustainable and inclusive growth. Corruption and unfair practices may hamper economic and social development, especially for the private sector and all sizes of enterprises when doing business in ASEAN[ii],with lasting impacts on the economy and wider society.
Women encounter greater risks of being exposed to unethical behaviour based on the link between gender and unfair business practices. This raises power asymmetries and positions women at the grassroots level as more vulnerable to such circumstances[iii]. There is a strong need for Southeast Asian countries to strengthen their institutional structure to support greater coordination on gender equality to create a robust framework supporting women's economic empowerment and gendered perspective in integrity[iv].
The UNDP FairBiz project, with the support of the UK Government, the ASEAN Economic Reform Programme, piloted pioneering initiatives in the region to capacitate women entrepreneurs to access public procurement tenders. Since 2021, women-led SMEs in Thailand have learned how to develop policies and codes to strengthen ethical responsibility standards. In Indonesia, women entrepreneurs received teachings on compliance, a key driver of risk management strategy, and practical exercises on e-procurement platforms. In a peer-to-peer setting, they shared the challenges of leading companies and how to tackle corruption issues internally and externally. They provided inputs and insights on solutions and committed to working on specific tasks to incorporate integrity principles, increasing their chances of accessing the public sector market as suppliers.
The nexus between gender and integrity is the cornerstone of the UNDP paper "Promoting Women Entrepreneurs as Drivers of Business Integrity", bringing out forward-thinking entrepreneurs developing policies with compliance and ethics at the core. Examples of innovative approaches stood out from the publication, such as a company in Thailand replacing the grey gift policy with a more transparent discount plan for customers, allowing the organization to save an estimated 5000 USD per year. An agricultural company, in line with a more inclusive approach, decided to equalize salaries for immigrant workers. Protecting the rights for equal pay and non-discrimination based on ethnicity contributed to raising transparency, well-being and sustainability in the organization, eliminating employee turnover and related costs.
In a world where only 1% of public procurement goes to women-led businesses[v], FairBiz training in Indonesia proved that women entrepreneurs could participate and win government tenders in Central and West Java Provinces. ASEAN economies are now called to intersect challenges with a more holistic, inclusive, and responsible approach. The evidence collected by UNDP showed that women entrepreneurs, with the right tools, can be powerful agents of change and presents a great opportunity for ASEAN to enhance its institutional frameworks to incorporate gender considerations and help achieve prosperous, equitable and resilient societies.
Author: Sara D’Anzeo, Business Engagement Specialist, UNDP Bangkok Regional Hub
FairBiz is the UNDP’s project for “Promoting a Fair Business Environment in ASEAN”, funded by the UK Government, the ASEAN Economic Reform Programme, which brings together stakeholders from government, the private sector and CSOs in ASEAN to co-create that environment, supported by technical expertise and other resources.
[iv]Promoting Women Entrepreneurs as Driver of Business Integrity: A Practical Approach | United Nations Development Programme (undp.org)
[v]Gender and equality in public procurement (worldbank.org)
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