The UN Forum on Business and Human Rights is the global platform for stock-taking and lesson-sharing on efforts to move the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights from paper to practice. As the world’s foremost gathering in this area, it provides a unique space for dialogue between governments, business, civil society, affected groups and international organizations on trends, challenges and good practices in preventing and addressing business-related human rights impacts. At the 2019 Forum, UNDP co-organized a session informing about the progress on States’ action in Asia. This session, moderated by Livio Sarandrea, Business and Human Rights Advisor at UNDP, provided an opportunity to discuss diverse pathways being followed by countries in Asia to promote responsible business conduct.
In Asia, six stand-alone national action plans on business and human rights are being or have been drafted. Many countries align their processes with the core criteria recommended by the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights but the outcomes often differ in their modalities and priorities chosen. Throughout the session representatives from Thailand, Pakistan, Japan, Indonesia, and Nepal have shared their experiences related to advancing the business and human rights agenda in respective countries.
Ms. Ruenvadee Suwanmongkol, Secretary-General at the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) of Thailand, reflected on the work of Government of Thailand and the recent launch of a National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights (NAP). Ms. Suwanmongkol has further highlighted the SEC’s plan to train all listed companies in the country in their efforts to improve policy coherence across government institutions. The SEC has been taking action to advance business and human rights in Thailand by awareness-raising initiatives and capacity building of listed companies. The government has been continuously working towards UN Guiding Principles implementation. Ms. Suwanmongkol also highlighted the interest and commitment of the Thai government towards implementing ESG standards.
Mr. Kamran Khan, Joint Secretary of Ministry of Human Rights Government of Pakistan, provided an overview of the business and human rights landscape in Pakistan. The consultation process on business and human rights in the country goes back to mid-2018, and it was initially led by the Ministry of Human Rights (MoHR). The MoHR has brought together all key government stakeholders and formed a core committee on business and human rights. Mr. Khan underlined that all relevant federal ministries are committed to contributing to the development and implementation of a NAP. In Pakistan, special attention is paid to the transparency and inclusivity of the process. For that reason, the MoHR has launched a website to inform all stakeholders involved in the progress.
Mr. Shinji Minami, Director of Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs Division Foreign Policy Bureau, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, outlined Japan’s journey towards a NAP. In 2016, the government announced its intention to formulate a NAP, which is now expected to be finalized by mid-2020. Japan already undertook a baseline study and identified priority areas for the country. The process is currently at the stage of formulating a NAP for which Japan has formed specialized bodies, i.e. the Inter-Ministerial Committee, the Advisory Committee, and the Working Group. Mr. Minami highlighted that as a part of a consultation process, the government engaged with a range of stakeholders, including international experts, private sector and civil society.
Mr. Koshal Chandra Subedi, Joint Secretary, Office of the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers, Nepal, stated a commitment of the Government of Nepal to implement the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. Nepal is preparing for the adoption of the 5th National Human Rights Action Plan recognizes the importance of the UNGPs and encourages enterprises to mainstream UNGPs in all their activities. This Action Plan will also serve as a base to develop projects and programmes to be implemented around the country, including those related to BHR. The government is committed to continuing to better institutionalize the business and human rights agenda in the country. Mr. Chandra has also announced that Nepal will host the 2nd UN Annual Forum on Business and Human Rights in Kathmandu (18-20 March 2020).
Mr. Prabianto Mukti Wibowo, Assistant Deputy Minister for Forestry, Coordinating Ministry for Economic Affairs of Indonesia shared how the government plays its role as a catalyst for business respect for human rights across the country. This commitment is reflected in the development of regulations and policies, but also in recent baseline studies on palm oil plantations, mining and tourism, and in development of an online due diligence tool for corporate self-assessment. In the last years, the Government of Indonesia has been developing a National Action Plan on Human Rights 2020-2014 and a Roadmap on Business and Human Rights. The Action Plan currently consists of four priority focus areas: the protection of the rights of children, women, people with disabilities and indigenous people. Mr. Wibowo noted that despite the remarkable progress, a lot more needs to be done to overcome challenges and advance human rights in Indonesia.
Impact of Inbound and Outbound Investment on Human Rights in South and Southeast Asia
In South and Southeast Asia, foreign direct investment (FDI) has been a critical factor in achieving high rates of economic growth and lifting rates of formal employment as well as household incomes. However, FDI – especially in certain circumstances such as natural resource extraction, plantations, energy projects, mega-infrastructure projects, and special economic zones (SEZs) – has also been implicated in a long and well-documented list of adverse human rights impacts including labor rights abuses, land grabbing, displacement of Indigenous Peoples, environmental pollution, and gender discrimination.
In recent years, South and Southeast Asian companies and financial institutions have grown considerably in profitability and capital accumulation and now seek new investment opportunities within the region. Increasing rates of outbound investment from certain Asian countries may present new risks to human rights in host countries.
Discussants in this part of the session have considered adverse impacts on labor rights, land grabbing, and gender discrimination. They have addressed the role of NAPs in ensuring that inbound as well as outbound investment is aligned with the UNGPs, and have outlined the practical steps that States could take to ensure greater policy coherence between their human rights obligations and efforts to create and maintain an investment-friendly environment. Speakers have also mentioned strategies that could be used to provide access to remedy in cases with a cross-border or transnational dimension. The discussion was moderated by Sean Lees, Business and Human Rights Specialist at UNDP Bangkok Regional Hub and by Rosanna Ocampo, Senior Programme Officer, UN Advocacy at FORUM-ASIA.
Marzuki Darusman, Chairperson of The Foundation for International Human Rights Reporting Standards and the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, has underlined the need to weave a closer relationship between Pillars I, II and III of the UN Guiding Principles in order to maximize their impact. Further, Han Dongfang, Founder of China Labour Bulletin, has called on engaging in the collaborative approach towards FDI, while also acknowledging its limitations in some geographies.
Joan Carling, Co-Convener of Indigenous Peoples Major Group for Sustainable Development-IPMG, has provided a valuable perspective of the Indigenous communities affected by the FDI mega-infrastructure projects. She has called on not using the law as a weapon against Indigenous Peoples as it can lead to inequality and conflict and stressed the importance of obtaining Free, Prior and Informed Consent. Anirudha Nagar, Communities Co-Director of Accountability Counsel, has added that non-judicial strategies can and should provide results for communities in Asia harmed by internationally-financed projects.
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