UN Leaders in Asia Pacific seek allies in business to promote responsible business practices, human rights and environmental standards
A forum of business, governments, civil society organisations, unions and international organisations is considering how best to leverage international agreements and national legislation to further sustainable development.
Bangkok, Thailand – Regional heads from nine UN organisations have spoken out on the critical need to address the adverse impacts of business operations on human rights. Addressing delegates at the Responsible Business and Human Rights Forum via a video statement, they declared that responses to the Asia Pacific region's myriad challenges must be urgent and coordinated.
Stakeholders must "work together to make the future more inclusive, equitable and truly sustainable," the statement said. "Let us act to build forward better, to identify fair and durable solutions for the people of today and the generations of tomorrow."
This year, the Forum – held annually since 2017 – will explore themes around harnessing "levers of change", including international agreements such as the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGP), endorsed by the Human Rights Council in 2011. It will also discuss those strategies that have been effective in promoting businesses' respect for human rights and the environment, as well as considering novel approaches to accelerate progress.
"…this Forum … provide(s) a unique opportunity for us to work together to promote and deepen business respect for human rights, as we chart a more inclusive and sustainable future in a post-COVID-19 world, "the UN regional leaders continued.
The Forum comes in the wake of positive developments in due diligence in human rights in a broad range of contexts. In recent years, there has been a growing shift from voluntary to mandatory consideration of human rights in business interactions and supply chains. Thailand, Japan and Pakistan have developed national action plans (NAPs) on business and human rights in 2019, 2020 and 2021, respectively. India, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Maldives, Mongolia, Nepal, and Vietnam are also developing plans for NAPs, while Thailand is working on its second edition.
The European Union, the United States and other major markets for Asia Pacific goods are including human rights and preservation of the environment chapters into bilateral and multilateral trade agreements. Investors, too, are adding greater weight to the environment, social and governance (ESG) considerations when making investment choices.
However, the scale of the challenges remains immense, particularly for vulnerable and marginalised groups such as children, women, indigenous peoples, people with disabilities, or those displaced or affected by migration. Following the COVID-19 pandemic, progress was stalled or reversed on a range of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including SDG 8 on decent work, SDG 5 on gender equality, and SDG 10 on reduced inequalities. Many nations in the Asia Pacific region continue to struggle with serious public health and economic consequences of the pandemic and ensuing disruption to international trade. Action by businesses has never been more imperative.
Topics before the more than 20 roundtables and panels to be held over four days include promoting labour rights and gender equality, protecting children's rights, responding to conflict and corruption, and collective challenges such as climate change and environmental degradation. Delegates are drawn from governments, civil society organisations, human rights defenders, trade unions, academia, international organisations, national human rights institutions, business enterprises, industry associations, journalists, lawyers, activists and campaigners
Hosts of the UN Responsible Business and Human Rights Forum include the International Labour Organization (ILO), the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), and the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights (UNWG).
The event is sponsored by the Government of Sweden, the Japanese Government, and the European Union (EU).