Consultation workshop on National action plan to advance responsible business practices

Opening Remarks by Ms. Caitlin Wiesen, UN Resident Coordinator a.i. and UNDP Resident Representative in Viet Nam

April 7, 2022

-       H.E. Mr. Phan Chi Hieu, Deputy Minister of Justice

-       Mr. Phan Duc Hieu, Member of the National Assembly of Viet Nam, Standing Member of the Economic Committee of the National Assembly

-       Mr. Livio Sarandrea, UNDP Business and Human Rights Global Lead,

-       Mr. Ola Karlman, Head of Promotion, Economic and Political Affairs, Embassy of Sweden in Viet Nam

-       Distinguished representatives from government, business, non-governmental, the United Nations, and media,

-       Ladies and gentlemen,

Good morning, Xin Chao!

I. Remarks:

It is with great pleasure that I join Vice Minister Hieu in welcoming you to the National consultation workshop ‘Recommendations to develop the National action plan on improving laws and policies to advance responsible business practices of business enterprises in Viet Nam’. Thank you all for taking time to be with us here this morning in this important consultation.

On this occasion, I would like to extend my thanks to the Ministry of Justice and to the Swedish Embassy for organizing and supporting this important and timely initiative to promote responsible business. I wish to deliver you two key messages to ensure a just, green and inclusive way forward for the economy in Viet Nam and an opportunity to build forward better after the COVID 19 pandemic.

Key message

  • First, responsible business practices and business accountability for human rights is vital for both business performance and the sustainable future of Viet Nam. This means respecting the human rights of all stakeholders in the business context, from its employees to those of their suppliers, from local communities to consumers, and from vulnerable and marginalized groups to the public at large.
  • Second, as we support the MOJ in the development of the national action plan to promote responsible business practice which will be submitted to the Prime Minister in 2023, this year 2022 becomes a critical year to place the right foundations to make the plan work for everyone. The impact of this plan will be proportional to the level of consultations from which it will originate. And now is the time to contribute to this discourse. Your voice matters and your voice counts! We look forward to your active participation in today’s workshop and future stakeholder consultations for the National Action Plan.  

Many of you may not be entirely familiar with the responsibility of businesses to respect human rights, and ask the questions – What is it? Why now? and Why Viet Nam?

What is it?

The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) were endorsed by the Human Rights Council in 2011, are the most widely recognized set of standards of Responsible Business Practice. They were unanimously endorsed by all UN Member States and all the main International Business associations.

Responsible business practice is relevant to many relatively similar and overlapping concepts, such as corporate social responsibility, ESG, business and human rights, sustainable business, business ethics, creating shared Value (CSV), and social license to operate. Regardless of these different terminologies, they all contribute to one unified agenda, that is to promote corporate responsibility. Responsible business practices, at its core, are those that, at a minimum, respect human rights by preventing and addressing the adverse human rights impacts of businesses. To implement responsibility to respect human rights, businesses are encouraged to publish human rights policies/statements, conduct routine human rights due diligence, and enable grievance and remediation mechanisms to prevent, mitigate, track, and account for their negative human rights impacts.

Why now?

After a decade from their adoption, there is an increasing call for legislators and companies to implement UN Guiding Principles and act on human rights and environmental risks linked to business operations in the global supply chains. Just over a month ago, the European Commission adopted a long-awaited proposal of a Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive. This pan-EU initiatives builds on action already taken by several EU Member States in adopting mandatory norms on the same subjects, such as the German Supply Chain Act (2021), the Norwegian Transparency Act (2021), the Dutch Bill on Responsible Business Conduct (2021), the French Corporate Duty of Vigilance Law (2017). These are just some of example of regulations are already in place on supply chains of European companies in Asia, including businesses in Viet Nam. These impacts are likely to be growing rapidly in the years to come. Meanwhile in Asia, several countries are gearing up to keep up with the global trend. Thailand, Pakistan, and Japan are the three countries that have already adopted a National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights. Japan has already gone beyond this stage by announcing the adoption by this summer of Due Diligence Guidelines for Japanese companies. Viet Nam is among 7 other Asian countries that are progressing in the implementation of the UN Guiding Principles including through the development of a dedicated national strategy.

As Viet Nam has announced its candidacy to the UN Human Rights Council for the 2023-25 term, the development of a National Action Plan to promote respect for human rights in the context of business operation is sending a strong signal of commitment. A message which surely strengthens Vietnam’s voluntary pledges as a future member of the Council. UNDP is honoured to support Viet Nam in this process.

And now why Viet Nam?

Viet Nam has growing presence in the global supply chain and increasing integration in the global economy, the country has signed over 15 trade agreements, including two new-generation ones that uphold sustainable trade with positive impacts on human rights, such as EVFTA with Chapter 13 on Trade and Sustainable Development, CPTPP with Chapter 19 and 20 respectively on Labour and Environment.

Viet Nam has showed a strong political will to promote sustainable development, which is mainstreamed and integrated in a number of documents of the Party, Politburo, National Assembly, then central and local governments. Yet, in these documents, the business and human rights lens has not been adequately emphasized. A national action plan on responsible business practice will help addressing this gap while ensuring greater policy coherence with what provided in, for example Politburo’s Resolution 50 in 2019 on investment, the Labour Code 2019, and the Law on Environmental Protection 2020.


Turning to where we are now?

UNDP has been working with MOJ to inform the NAP, two studies have been being conducted. The Preliminary Assessment on the legal framework of responsible business practice in Viet Nam was published in 2020 and the current one is the baseline exercise to identify and prioritize course of actions for the NAP for the upcoming years.  The MOJ is now finalizing a baseline document which will inform the development of the NAP. Five areas have already been identified as priorities: investment, labour rights and standards, civil rights of vulnerable and marginalized groups, environment, and consumer rights.

The preliminary findings of the exercise will be shared this morning by the lead researcher with the objective of collecting your feedback which I hope will be frank, constructive, and rich. I understand that  those working on the baseline will continue to receive inputs even after today’s event via email, direct meetings or through UNDP.  

After today’s consultation, the MOJ, with support from UNDP, will finalize the baseline exercise and start elaborating the content of the NAP. A draft National Aaction Plan on Business and Human Rights should be released for public and stakeholders’ consultation tentatively during the third quarter of this year.

As mentioned earlier I hope you’ll seize the opportunity today to share your views and contribute to the development of a policy which will strongly impact all of you in the years to come. Your voice counts and your voice matters.   

Your inputs and contribution are needed to make the NAP work for Viet Nam, work for businesses in Viet Nam, work for you and for future generation.

Thank you.