Consultation in Manila Aims to Forge Common Vision and Strategy Towards Implementing UNGP on Business and Human Rights in ASEAN

Manila, 12 February 2016—Around 50 representatives from CSOs working in the ASEAN region gathered in Manila to discuss “Civil Society Role Towards Implementation of UNGPs on Business and Human Rights.”

During her keynote address, Professor Dato’ Dr. Aishah Bidin, Commissioner at the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM), shared Malaysia’s ongoing process to develop a National Action Plan (NAP).

In an NAP, the state defines the actions that it will undertake to implement the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Right (UNGP), Dato’ Bidin explained. It would serve as a mechanism for achieving greater respect for human rights by business in a manner that would promote policy coherence across different government units, contribute to trust building through wider participation and dialogue, and encourage sustainable development.

She emphasized that, while no one size fits all, states interested in developing an NAP could look to the guidance developed by the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights as well as the toolkit created by the Danish Institute for Human Rights and the International Corporate Accountability Roundtable.

In 2015, SUHAKAM had produced a Strategic Framework on a National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights for Malaysia, which both explains the rationale and provides an outline for the development of an NAP. The Framework indicates that a root cause of the prevalence of business-related human rights abuses globally has been the “siloing by governments of their processes for regulating human rights compliance away from or at the periphery of their processes for regulating business and economic activities.” Integration of both these types of processes is thus emphatically needed. Further, the Framework also emphasises that it is essential for a process to develop an NAP to be government-owned and led, and that the NAP be formulated based on adequate, informed and inclusive stakeholder consultations.

Dato’ Bidin shared that the human rights issues in the business context that currently concern SUHAKAM include the rights of migrant workers, gender pay gap, sexual harassment in the workplace, proper implementation of certain hydroelectric and reservoir dam projects, practices of logging and plantation companies, the impact of free trade agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement on human rights, and the land rights of indigenous people.

Ms. Faith Delos Reyes of the Human Rights Resource Centre presented some key points and regional trends from the Centre’s 2013 Business and Human Rights in ASEAN: A Baseline Study. Other speakers during the consultation included Mr. Jerome Bernas of the ASEAN CSR Network, Mr. Mugiyanto of the International NGO Forum on Indonesian Development and Ms. Melizel Asuncion of Verite Southeast Asia. Mr. Bernas shared highlights of the Asia-Africa Report to the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights as well as updates from the Geneva Forum in November 2015, while Mr.
Mugiyanto spoke on Indonesia’s ongoing process to develop an NAP. For her part, Ms. Asuncion suggested some successful approaches and strategies in engaging the private sector with regard to the UNGP.

Break out sessions followed the presentations, with participants given the task of conceptualizing common visions, objectives and strategies to (i) assist governments in developing and implementing NAPs, (ii) improve corporate practices to respect human rights, and (iii) enhance access to remedy for victims of adverse corporate human rights impacts.

The consultation in Manila, which was organized by Oxfam and the Institute of Human Rights at the University of the Philippines Law Center, was designed as a first step towards a more coordinated approach among civil society in supporting the implementation of the three pillars of the UNGP: the state duty to protect human rights, corporate responsibility to respect human rights, and access to remedy. Follow up activities are highly anticipated.