Roundtable on responsible business conduct

Keynote by Ms. Alissar Chaker, UNDP Resident Representative

March 28, 2024

Welcome participants and thank organizers. 

UNDP has been spearheading efforts to promote the responsible business agenda in Asia. In Cambodia, we have participated in discussions and advocacy on responsible business conduct with the private sector and EuroCham. We also apply systematically due diligence to all our partnerships with the private sector and raise awareness and knowledge on responsible business conduct throughout the process. We hope to expand our work and see a growing momentum in the country.

This dialogue is very timely. Cambodia has made commendable progress on its commitment to sustainable development, as demonstrated by its upcoming LDC graduation. The ongoing rebranding of Cambodia as an attractive destination for trade and investment presents an opportunity to reconfigure the country's economy: as one that not only performs well financially, but one that does so while developing the human capital and enhancing environment resilience. This is also the commitment of the Pentagonal Strategy.

The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, or UNGPs, which were unanimously endorsed by the Human Rights Council in June 2011, provide a pathway to build an inclusive and sustainable economy. As Cambodia prepares for LDC graduation and upcoming mandatory human rights due diligence, or HRDD, laws, the guiding principles provide guidance for states and businesses to play their part in protecting, respecting and remediating any violation or harm.

The guiding principles can also assist states and businesses in contributing to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and enhancing their competitiveness and access to certain important market, such as the EU – the second biggest trade partner in Cambodia.  

The 2030 Agenda has become a leading narrative about the role of business in society. Many businesses have embraced the SDGs, and various platforms and initiatives have emerged to harness the power of business in realizing them. We’ve seen an increased demand from exporting companies in seeking more sustainable business models, reducing their carbon footprint, and implementing measures to protect workers and communities. The SDGs can unlock the transformative potential of the private sector and prompt changes in financing as well as consumption and production patterns that support both financial performance and sustainable development.  

Milton Friedman's old adage – that says that the 'business of business is business’ – no longer holds.  Respecting human rights is not just a moral imperative. It has also become an economic imperative.

It is in this context that the governments of the UK and Australia enacted legislation on Modern Slavery in 2015 and 2018. Moreover, several European states have started enacting mandatory human rights due diligence laws. As of now, France, Germany, Norway, The Netherlands, and Switzerland have already passed such legislation. More importantly, the European Commission’s forthcoming Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive will impose an obligation on companies to conduct due diligence in relation to human rights, labor rights, and the environment, including in their supply chains. All these legislative majors will impact the supply chains in Cambodia.   

We must note that businesses impact not only Human Rights, but also the environment and climate change. Increasingly, all these responsibilities of companies are integrated under the framework set by the UN Guiding Principles. Under the EU Directive, covered companies should have the plan to ensure that their business strategy is compatible with efforts to limit global warming to 1.5 °C in line with the Paris Agreement. Landmark resolutions by the UN General Assembly and Human Rights Council recognize the human right to a Clean, Healthy and Sustainable Environment. This means that companies now also need to consider the environment when conducting Human Rights Due Diligence. UNDP is promoting an integrated approach to Environmental and Human Rights Due Diligence.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Going forward, greater ambition and a faster pace must remain our imperative. 

We must take more decisive steps and convince more and more stakeholders to become agents for change in promoting the Responsible Business Agenda.

Every stakeholder in Cambodia has a role to play in sustainable and resilient LDC graduation and development.

The government must engage in a process to develop a National Action Plan to promote the responsible business agenda and expand access to justice for human rights violations resulting from business operations.

Businesses are expected to adopt responsible business practices that have an actual impact on rightsholders which is essential to sustain development. Capacity development on human rights due diligence must be made available to small and medium size companies. This is a shared responsibility to ensure level-fields and inclusion. 

Consumers, media, and youth must be mobilized to provide bottom-up pressure to influence production and consumption patterns.

Stronger alliances must be forged with universities, specialized NGOs, and human rights and environmental experts to form and support companies in due diligence processes.

In this, UNDP Cambodia reaffirms its commitment to support efforts for accelerating responsible business conduct. We will further expand our efforts to better equip governments and companies to understand and act upon their duties and responsibilities to prevent business-related abuses. 

The road ahead will no doubt present us with hurdles and unexpected challenges, but if we place people at the center of our efforts, we can weather this storm together.

I wish you all successful deliberations and look forward to continuing engagement during this round table and beyond.