AMBASSADOR ONG KENG YONG,
FORMER SECRETARY-GENERAL OF ASEAN,
CURRENT CHAIRMAN OF HUMAN RIGHTS RESOURCE CENTRE (HRRC), AND
PRESENTLY IN THE S. RAJARATNAM SCHOOL OF INTERNATIONAL STUDIES (RSIS),
NANYANG TECHNOLOGICAL UNIVERSITY, SINGAPORE,
AT THE ASEAN RESPONSIBLE & INCLUSIVE BUSINESS FORUM,
ON THURSDAY 10 DECEMBER 2020, SINGAPORE.
Good morning, Singapore’s Senior Minister of State Ms Sim Ann, ladies, gentlemen and friends who have joined this online forum with the common purpose of learning more about responsible and inclusive business. Many of you know much more than myself about the subject but allow me to remind ourselves and share with the audience out there a few relevant issues.
2. What is a responsible and inclusive business? I like to refer to Harvard Professor John Ruggie’s work on Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. He was reporting on this subject in a UN project a few years ago. There are three pillars in his defining work: the state duty to protect human rights, the corporate responsibility to respect, and the access to remedies if these rights are not protected.
3. These three pillars are a reminder of the key elements in building an inclusive economy. It encapsulates what it means to be responsible: to protect, respect, and to provide access to justice. It also identifies the stakeholders of an inclusive business, namely, the common man, the companies and the state.
4. These three groups of stakeholders rely on each other for success and are inter-dependent. For example, if workers are cared for and their families are provided with a stable standard of living, they will be motivated to stay with their employers and to run the companies profitably. This will in turn sustain employment and growth, which will be beneficial for the whole country.
5. When the workers are happy, they can work with the management to look after their fellow citizens beyond the company. There are many issues where management and workers can deal with and support, to bring about more constructive interactions and relations across the board. This is the basis of corporate social responsibility (CSR).
6. As economic progress brings more jobs and increases people’s income, business activities must be pursued responsibly to prevent harmful consequences such as violations of workers’ welfare, corruption and bribery, and environmental degradation. Responsible business has a beneficial ripple effect on the economy.
7. COVID-19 has hit businesses hard and led to the closure of many companies. It affected the livelihood of many individuals and the supply chains of countless businesses. Now, we hear that the COVID vaccine is available. We do not know how soon our respective populations will be vaccinated and what level of immunity that will provide. We also read that the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) had been signed. These two developments come together to create an excellent opportunity now for us to revisit the way we run our businesses and consider how we can benefit from them.
8. Small and medium enterprises or SMEs represent around 97-99% of the enterprise population in ASEAN countries. (This percentage includes the micro enterprises comprising only the owners and one or two more employees; so, we do not just say “SMEs” but often “MSMEs”, that is adding “micro” or “M” to SMEs). Their development is an important pillar of ASEAN community building. Many SMEs are part of the supply chain for bigger businesses and corporations, and can play a role in influencing larger businesses to be more inclusive and responsible. Most importantly, SMEs usually have more freedom and flexibility to take baby steps, and potentially create a butterfly effect within the industry.
9. Several ASEAN countries have taken the initiative to provide support for SMEs to achieve digitalisation and technological innovation, or to encourage businesses to grow beyond their home country. Sure, it will take some time to get significant result, but it should not stop SMEs and corporations from moving forward in the quest to transform and be inclusive.
10. Networks such as the ASEAN CSR Network, this Responsible and Inclusive Business Forum, and ARIABA provide opportunities for like-minded organisations and business owners to get together. Work on this area has been on-going for several years. There are no shortages of ideas through conferences, exchange of best practices, guidelines and frameworks.
11. Continue the conversations on responsible business, the exchange of best practices and encourage one another in the journey. Think of this issue from the perspective of an individual, a citizen of your country, an employee of the company and a consumer of resources. Think out of the box to find creative ways for sustainable and positive changes, and look into small companies that can contribute to your supply chain.
12. Before I end, I would like to stress that every business can start with little steps. There is always room for something to be done, no matter what you do and where you are. Thank you.
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