Regional Workshop on Business and Human Rights Held in Bangkok

Bangkok, 1-2 June 2017 – The Human Rights Resource Centre took part in the Regional Workshop on Business and Human Rights: Moving Ahead with National Action Plans, which gathered 200 key representatives from states, businesses, civil society, and trade unions at the United Nations Conference Centre in Bangkok, Thailand, to discuss how decision-makers from all sectors, in particular governments, can work hand-in-hand to mainstream human rights practices in business operations, and drive momentum for an ASEAN Community that protects not only profits, but also people and the planet.

Ms. Valerie Cliff, Deputy Regional Director, United Nations Development Programme in Asia and the Pacific, welcomed participants and expressed that the growing multi-stakeholder community of supporters of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs/Guiding Principles) “affirm the principle that economic growth, Human Rights and Environmental Protection are not contradictory to each other.  They are actually mutually reinforcing. A business environment respectful of Human Rights attracts further long-term sustainable investments and manages risks better. More investments create opportunities for economic growth which translates into more means for the States to help disadvantaged communities and fulfil their rights.”

“We now have to make the Guiding Principles a reality,” exhorted Dr. Michael Addo, Chair of the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights, in his Keynote Address.  In doing this, there is a need for a common understanding of the Guiding Principles amongst leaders and to raise awareness amongst the various stakeholders. In addition, he said leaders need to be credible in putting forward the Guiding Principles in activities, downstream to stakeholders in affected communities and upstream within partnership communities, including governments and businesses.

Dr. Addo further underscored the need to take all opportunities in implementing the UNGPs, specifically encouraging participants to explore the convergence between UNGPs and Sustainable Development Goals. He reminded of the importance of leadership, both in the micro level and the macro level and the need to develop a shared vision. “We have no chance to fail, we have to succeed,” he stressed. Lauding the commitment expressed by the Prime Minister of Thailand during a conference the day before that saw the signing of the Declaration on cooperation in implementing the UNGPs in Thailand between the different stakeholders and ministries of the Thail Government, Dr. Addo ended his address with a call for action: “We need to seize the opportunity presented to us yesterday and drive this lesson to the rest of the ASEAN region, to make sure that all 10 ASEAN Member States share that common enthusiasm for the UNGPs.”

The two-day event featured insightful panel discussions on the following topics: (1) Update on global progress and challenges in implementing the UNGPs; (2) Update on ASEAN progress and challenges in implementing the UNGPs; (3) The State Duty to Protect: Opportunities and challenges in developing National Action Plans – the ASEAN Experience; (4) The Corporate Responsibility to Respect: Challenges and opportunities in implementing the UNGPs – The ASEAN experience; (5) Access to effective remedies: Exploring gaps and solutions; and (6) Exploring effective responses: Dialogue with civil society organisations, indigenous people groups and trade unions.

At the penultimate session of the workshop, the participants deliberated on the proposed Regional Strategy on CSR and Human Rights, which was drafted following the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) Seminar on Promoting Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Human Rights in ASEAN held in Singapore on 3-4 November 2016. A second draft of the document will be produced as part of the outcomes of the event.

The Regional Workshop was jointly convened by the ASEAN CSR Network, the Ministry of Justice Thailand, AICHR Thailand, UNDP, and the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific “as part of the continuous effort to elevate the importance of the business and human rights cause in the region,” according to Ms. Yanti Triwadiantini, Chair of the ASEAN CSR Network.