The role of business associations in promoting standards of responsible behavior in the field of human rights

January 19, 2024
UNDP Kyrgyzstan

Due to the change of direction in the legal aspect, business is aware of its importance to the state, customers and employees. In Kyrgyzstan, human rights are an important issue that society pays attention to. Citizens are becoming more educated about labor rights, discrimination and freedom of speech. There are institutions of the Ombudsman, the Business Ombudsman, human rights organizations, trade unions and authorized state bodies that strive to ensure the protection of human rights at the proper level. Today, at the legislative level, a decision has been made to develop a National Action Plan for Human Rights in the Aspect of Entrepreneurship, which is based on the UN Guiding Principles.

Representatives of the International Business Council, business association “JIA” shared how business in Kyrgyzstan is ready for responsible behavior and the role of business associations. 

Zhanabil Davletbaev, Deputy Executive Director of the International Business Council, believes that large companies are already ready to work on the basis of the UNDP.

“Large companies see that this issue is given full attention, both by government agencies, and by human rights activists and international organizations. At the level of legislation, work is already underway to ensure respect for human rights in business activities, there is a sustainable practice,” says IBC Deputy Executive Director.

In small and medium-sized businesses, human rights issues are often ignored. This can be seen in the example of informal employment, when labor contracts are not drawn up between the employer and the mercenary. According to official figures in Kyrgyzstan, more than 70% of citizens work informally, and this often appears as the main factor that creates risks for human rights.

Zhanabil Davletbaev gave several examples of problematic situations in the field of human rights and how responsible behavior of companies can contribute to their solution.

Gender Discrimination

In Kyrgyzstan, there are more and more stories about harassment at work or discriminatory issues in hiring, illegal dismissal. The lawyer believes that women are initially not hired because they can become pregnant, and men are obviously hired - "distortions exist in the country."

Recognizing the systemic discrimination that women may face, international human rights standards require states to promote the elimination of discrimination (the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women has been ratified by Kyrgyzstan).

Protection of personal information

“Often companies are the custodians of large databases of personal data, for example, the banking sector, developers of mobile applications, where people register and give their personal data. Are there any guarantees that this data will knowingly or not knowingly get to third parties? This affects human rights at a new level of modern challenges,” the lawyer explains.

In the Kyrgyz Republic, the main legislative act regulating the protection of personal data and the rights of citizens is the Law "On Personal Data" dated May 22, 2017.

However, despite the existence of legislative norms, the implementation of the rights to the protection of personal data in Kyrgyzstan may face certain challenges and restrictions. Among them are the low awareness of citizens about their rights, the lack of mechanisms for monitoring and supervising the activities of operators, incomplete compliance with the requirements of the law by some organizations, restrictions on access to information due to lack of funds and resources, as well as difficulties in litigation in cases of violations. rights to the protection of personal data.

“It is good that the Ombudsman, the Business Ombudsman, authorized state bodies – the Ministry of Digital Development, the Ministry of Economy, the Ministry of Natural Resources, the Presidential Administration, and the Ministry of Labor are working in this direction in the country. They are generally knowledgeable in the direction of human rights and business. These are our development partners and we work with them jointly. There are laws and they need to be implemented. On protecting the rights of the client, on food security, on the rights of consumers, patients,” explains Deputy Executive Director of IBC. 

What is the difference of Kyrgyzstan from other countries in the business and human rights agenda?

Kyrgyzstan exports little, so it does not often meet the expectations from global companies and markets regarding the existence of human rights policies and due diligence procedures for businesses in Kyrgyzstan, assessing the impact of business activities on human rights. Unlike companies in foreign countries, which, when opening their business, understand that they must immediately comply with all parameters and norms of international human rights law. The expert believes that this is due to the fact that Kyrgyzstan is a “localized” business country, not only that it does not think about it, there was simply no reason to study this niche. In this direction, it is necessary to educate business in responsible behavior in relation to human rights, as well as the civil sector. Consumers need to be shown and told about the specifics of doing business. At this level, there is a conflict right away, somewhere the business neglects the rights too much, somewhere the consumers themselves demand more than they need. The dependent nature of the population of the post-Soviet countries has not been canceled,” the IBC Executive Director notes with a smile.

The expert believes that this is a natural way of progress towards human rights. Here it is very important to follow the path of dialogue and creation. Davletbaev notes that in order to officially declare to companies about respect for human rights, resources are needed to ensure labor protection, ensure high-quality production, so that goods and services meet the issues of a green economy and safety. All this affects human rights.

Smog and the right to clean air? There is a solution and it is on the surface!

“Smog in Bishkek. Here you can find the perpetrators and exaggerate this topic for years. Or think about joint measures to address this issue. The same gasification - this is the method when business gas suppliers and the state jointly solve smog issues. Import of electric cars, provision of infrastructure - business takes on the risks of importing and selling electric cars. The state, in turn, says: “We will encourage you for gas and the import of electric cars, thank you! We subsidize some issue, for example, gasification or simplify administrative procedures. So, you want to gasify this settlement, we, in turn, will help to give all the necessary permits - this is an incentive, the state itself asks for help in this,” explains the lawyer.

The representative of the IBC considers such mechanisms to be applicable in all areas - in the food industry, in the construction sector, in the extractive sector.

To what extent does national legislation comply with internationally recognized human rights standards?

“All laws of Kyrgyzstan, including the Constitution, are developed taking into account international covenants, such as the International Bill of Human Rights. The UN Guiding Principles are rather instructions for businesses on how to implement and apply them in practice. In general, the UN RP does not create new standards in the field of human rights, new obligations. They simply actualize human rights in the aspect of entrepreneurship.

In large companies, all this is already at a certain level, here it is only a question for small and medium-sized businesses, since they are just starting to work in this direction and cannot immediately cover everything. They will start only with small needs at the initial stages: workplace safety, ensuring the health of themselves and the five employees that they have, some obviously obvious things, and then about personal data, environmental impact, secondary with the growth of the company will come to this will focus on respect for human rights,” says the lawyer.

The state should stimulate business to grow and develop. Of course, each business entity can already at this stage implement policies, mechanisms at its level, if there are gaps, try to directly take into account the UN Guiding Principles, and not wait for the National Action Plan in terms of business and human rights. In this regard, it is good when we already have global companies that set trends.

Why are global companies leaders in human rights?

“Because they already have human rights commitment policies at the initial level at headquarters, and these policies go down to the regional offices, to the suppliers. And already at this level, all this is quickly resolved. Pay attention to the representatives of large companies like Pepsi and Co., they already have all the policies and they release them to familiarize each employee, regardless of which continent the company or its supplier operates on.

Not in vain, it seems to me that we are already the 32nd country that has joined the agenda for the creation of the NAP. These are very positive prerequisites, because respect for human rights gives many advantages,” concludes Zhanabil Davletbaev.

JIA Business Association

The JIA Business Association has existed since 2017 and is a non-profit voluntary association of legal entities, which is based on a common interest for mutual support of efforts aimed at developing entrepreneurship in Kyrgyzstan. The organization protects the rights of entrepreneurs from interference by the state and third parties and is engaged in the protection of all interested parties.

“Today, in the business community, the call for responsible business conduct in the legal relations between the employer and the employee, the impact of business on the local community is increasingly heard. Since 2022, our association has been actively participating in the UN Development Program project on the topic “Business and Human Rights”, a great contribution in this direction was made by the legal adviser of our association, Kalygul Saliev, who was involved as an expert,” says Azzambek Jeenbai uulu.

The executive director of the association considers informal employment to be the main problem in Kyrgyzstan in respect of human rights by business.

“The first reason for this situation is the low awareness of citizens about their rights. Citizens do not read and do not even think about what they subscribe to. Because of this, there is a misunderstanding between the employer and the employee when the violation of human rights has already occurred.

Another business problem in practice that we notice is non-payment of taxes. The legislation stipulates that social contributions must be paid for each hired employee, but in fact, small and medium-sized businesses are trying to avoid paying taxes. And the employee, not thinking about the future, wants to receive a little more salary in an envelope. Subsequently, after 20-30 years of work and retirement, they are faced with the fact that the state cannot pay him any benefits,” explains the director of the association.

Have you ever helped victims of the negative impact of business on human rights? If yes, what was the negative impact?

Most often, the cases we come across are situations in the mining industry and its impact on the local community. There are also situations in the construction sector where residents of the area in which the work is being carried out complain about the noise due to the daily development process. In this situation, citizens do not turn to us, but to affiliated state bodies that are responsible for human rights. Here the association acts as a defender of the rights of entrepreneurs.

Is there any difference in respect of human rights by big business from small and medium?

Large companies in the country are trying to conduct their activities in accordance with the norms of corporate social responsibility, adopt appropriate policies, introduce human rights provisions into codes of conduct and other internal documents. In a small and medium-sized business entity, the picture is different, they do not think about human rights and this issue is not a priority for them. Large companies include the policy of diversity and inclusiveness in the daily agenda, respecting human rights in Kyrgyzstan at the proper level, - the executive director of the association believes.

“Of course, depending on the size of the company and the industry of its activity, the attraction of investments also changes. If we talk about industrial production, the norms enshrined in the legislation are not observed, most often there is no payment for overtime work. They do not use special devices and equipment for working with harmful substances, which affects the health of the employee. In agriculture, one of the big problems is the use of forced and child labor,” says Azzambek Jeenbai uulu.

What help do you think companies in Kyrgyzstan need to pay more attention to human rights?

“It seems to me that trade unions need to be strengthened. Unfortunately, the institution of trade unions in Kyrgyzstan does not work at a sufficiently high level. For example, in Germany, since 1919, trade unions have been operating that control and protect the rights of more than 6 million employees, together with business associations, the state for continuous dialogue and close cooperation in improving the human rights agenda,” the JIA representative shares his opinion.

How do you see your role in advancing this agenda?


The JIA Business Association in the promotion of human rights in the aspect of entrepreneurship can provide support to small and medium-sized businesses in legal matters and their protection. The Association is ready to hold consultation meetings, trainings, seminars to increase the potential of entrepreneurs in legal matters to improve the country's investment climate.

Responsible business behavior contributes to strengthening the business ecosystem in Kyrgyzstan. Companies that hold themselves to high standards in respect of human rights act as leaders and motivators for other market participants, inspiring them to follow the UN Guiding Principles. This contributes to the development of a competitive environment in which business is conducted on the basis of respect for human rights, and the creation of favorable conditions for the long-term development of the business community in the country.

Business respect for human rights helps to reduce reputational risks for companies and improve relationships with stakeholders such as customers, investors, employees and the public. Moreover, it contributes to the social and economic development of the country, creating jobs, improving the quality of life of the population and promoting sustainable development.

In Kyrgyzstan, there is a need to further develop responsible business conduct. Companies can actively implement corporate responsibility principles, respect human rights in their operations, comply with international standards, establish monitoring and reporting systems, complaints mechanisms, and engage with stakeholders to improve working conditions, protect the environment, fight corruption and other aspects of human rights. 

This article is an element of an information campaign to promote human rights issues in the aspect of entrepreneurship in Kyrgyzstan within the framework of the UNDP project "Business and Human Rights" (B + HR), with the financial support of the Government of Japan.


The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is one of the leading development organizations in Kyrgyzstan. Since 1993, we have been working in various areas, including inclusive development, environmental protection, crisis response, gender equality promotion, and collaborative efforts towards sustainable development goals.

Media Contact: Nurzhan Alymkanova, Communications Specialist, UNDP