HRRC Co-Organises Workshop on Business and Human Rights During the ASEAN Peoples’ Forum

Jakarta, 16 April 2014 — During the ASEAN People’s Forum/ASEAN Civil Society Conference, held in Yangon from the 21st to the 23rd of March, HRRC’s Deputy Director, Michelle Staggs Kelsall shared conclusions drawn from HRRC’s 2013 Baseline Study on Business and Human Rights in ASEAN and other on-going projects, particularly the Business and Human Rights Reporting and Assurance Frameworks Initiative (RAFI). In the well-attended session, Kelsall gave a comprehensive overview of notable practices across ASEAN in regulating transnational companies and their supply chain. The workshop, “Promoting Inclusive and Responsible Business: Experiences of Myanmar, Singapore and Across ASEAN,” was organized by Maruah Singapore, the Human Rights Resource Centre, and the Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business.

Moderated by Clara Feng of Maruah, it included inputs and presentations from the following experienced professionals in the field of business and human rights:

  1.  Han Shin Win, Badetharmoe
  2. Ko Kyi Zaw Lwin, Karen River Watch
  3. Ye Lin Myint, Paungku
  4. Hnin Wut Yee, Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business
  5. Leong Sze Hian, Maruah Singapore
  6. Michelle Staggs Kelsall, Human Rights Resource Centre

During the workshop, it was noted that there are interesting developments across the region in lobbying directly with companies to ensure that multinational corporations that source products from Southeast Asia adopt a zero tolerance approach to land-grabbing and depriving communities of their livelihoods. ASEAN states have put in place fairly robust legal frameworks concerning impacts of businesses on land use, labour, and the environment. The central challenge is almost always in the enforcement of these laws and regulations. Further, some international standards, such as the UN Guiding Principles and UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People, are yet to be fully followed and enforced by national and local governments. There also must be stronger incentives and disincentives for companies to respect the human rights of communities that they work in.

Drawing from the presentations and discussions with attendees at the workshop, the organisers gave the following recommendations:

  1. In line with the state duty to protect, as outlined in the 2011 UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and ratified international conventions, ASEAN states should take steps to prevent, investigate, punish and redress business-related human rights abuses through effective policies, legislation, regulations and adjudication, and promote international standards and best practices through a common framework.
  2. ASEAN states should develop and transparently implement regulatory frameworks on land and land tenancy which are consistent with the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security to address the negative impacts of  large-scale land acquisition for agricultural and extractive industries across the region. Development of such frameworks should be in close consultation with business enterprises and civil society specifically taking into account long term impact on the communities concerned.
  3. In line with ASEAN States’ obligations under the Convention against Corruption, States should redouble efforts to combat corruption at the national and ASEAN level, and engage both business and civil society in these efforts. This should include greater transparency of business contracts in land and extractives, providing a supportive environment of the media to pursue their essential role in exposing corruption, and prosecution of those involved in corrupt practices.

The workshop is the HRRC’s first official event in Myanmar and the Centre looks forward to strengthening its working relations with Maruah Singapore and the Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business, as well as with the other networks it made during the event.