Supporting Regional and National Partnerships for the implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights in Asia-Pacific

Oil palm plantation contractors (from left) Umi, Bukasiati and Serati say they don’t feel discriminated because of their gender. “There are many women who work on the oil palm plantations, including grandmothers like me!” said 51-year-old Bukasiati. Photo: UNDP Indonesia / Nicholas Hurt / 2016

The Asia-Pacific region has long been synonymous with economic dynamism. Over the last several decades, the volume of capital and trade flows has ballooned in the region, and hundreds of millions of people have been lifted out of poverty. By some estimates, Asia Pacific will become the world’s largest economic region by 2030.

However, these gains have not been without costs and risks. In some countries in Asia, economic growth is linked to contaminated water supplies, accelerated deforestation, and increased air pollution. Large infrastructure projects have led to environmental degradation and displacement. Elsewhere, rapid economic growth has resulted in hazardous working environments, exploitation, and other rights violations, with long-term implications on the stability and prosperity of individuals, families, and society.

The United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, unanimously endorsed by the Human Rights Council in 2011, comprise a set of 31 principles directed at States and companies to clarify existing duties and responsibilities to protect and respect human rights. The three-pillared ‘Protect, Respect, Remedy’ framework also underlines both sectors’ duties in providing effective remedy through judicial and non-judicial grievance mechanisms. 


undp-rbap-supportingpartnership-2017Group photo of the participants at the Regional Forum on Business and Human Rights, Bangkok, Thailand. Photo: UNDP/ 2017

There has been strong momentum in support of national dialogue and action around Business and Human Rights in many parts of Asia.  However, many in the business sector have yet to fully appreciate the place of human rights in their operations. Companies have yet to see how a human rights-based view of supply chain management or the creation of internal remedial mechanisms can help them mitigate risks while sustaining profitability. Importantly, businesses in the wider Asia-Pacific region have also yet to fully realize the strength of their voice in positively shaping the national social discourse on rights.

Governments, for their part, have sometimes held fast to an incomplete picture of rights, seeing them as a barrier to growth. In their attempt to attract and promote trade and investment, some governments have downplayed abuses by certain private sector actors. They have sometimes failed to recognize that the human rights abuses by a few firms can unfairly impact on the reputation of others, and unfortunately, to the country as a whole. Unaddressed, the accumulation of human rights violations can disrupt long standing trade relationships, hurting the economies of multiple countries. Due to an outdated appreciation of human rights, some governments in the Asia-Pacific region have been slow to fully embrace the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

UNDP Asia-Pacific aligns its work under the three pillars of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights:

·       Under Pillar 1 State Duty to Protect: UNDP advocates with Countries in the region to embrace the UNGP, provides technical support to the development of National Action Plans on Business and Human Rights, and conducts awareness raising around their purpose and application.

·       Under Pillar 2 Corporate Responsibility to Protect: UNDP engages and advocates with business, providing training on due diligence protocols and also awareness raising around the UNGP, the SDGs and human rights law.

·       Under Pillar 3 Access to Remedy: UNDP provides support to governments and business to strengthen judicial and non-judicial grievance mechanisms to provide effective remedy

Project Goal: Transformative Impact

undp-rbap-supportingpartnership-2017-2Nissara Spence of the IOM participates in the inaugural UNDP B+HR Lab. Bangkok, Thailand Photo: UNDP / Sean Lees / 2017

For businesses, implementation of the UNGP means fewer reputational, operational and legal risks that impact on wealth generation, job creation, and growth in trade and investment. Endorsement and implementation of the UNGPs can also reduce the potential for conflicts between the state, business, and citizens, resulting in more just, inclusive, and peaceful societies. Implementation of the United Nations Guiding Principles will help countries in Asia-Pacific meet the targets of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals. For the poor, this means a boost in jobs and livelihoods creation, greater access to basic services and assets, strengthened systems of social care and protection, a reinforcement of democratic governance, greater protection of the environment, accelerated efforts in climate action and an advancement in gender equality. The implementation of the UNGP can contribute directly to the realization of many SDGs. To list but a few:

  • When businesses provide for living wages they promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth for all (SDG 8.5), though the impact may be greatest for the poorest (SDG 10.1)
  • Businesses can develop and enforce anti-discrimination policies in furtherance of efforts to end its impact on women and girls (SDG 5.1) while ensuring women’s full and effective participation in economic life (SGD 5.5).
  • When businesses conduct robust environmental impact assessments and abide by existing laws and regulations, they substantially reduce the number of deaths and illnesses from hazardous chemicals and air, water and soil pollution and contamination (SDG 3.9)

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