Human Rights Advocacy and Business (Thailand, 13th-20th July, 2009)
Participants were asked to present a brief overview of their work within a human rights context. A number of common social and environmental themes emerged. Large scale infrastructure projects including the construction of dams and the building of ports and highways in Vietnam and Burma have a devastating effect on the livelihood of ethnic minorities and Indigenous peoples through contamination of soil and water, forced evictions, loss of income and land confiscation. Indeed, the impact on ethnic minority Indigenous peoples was a common concern for advocates from the Philippines, Australia, Malaysia, India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Cambodia, Vietnam and Burma.
The impact of the extractive sector in these countries and also in Mongolia, highlights the vulnerability of communities in many ’resource rich’ countries in the region when nation states fail to protect human rights, and corporations fail to respect them. Further challenges are faced when dealing with powerful investment consortiums such as those between the Thai, Chinese, Burmese, Indian, Taiwanese, Cambodian, Vietnamese and Korean governments, corporations and military. Many of these ‘deals’ fail to uphold the principles of Free, Prior and Informed Consent, and result in forced evictions, human trafficking, bonded labour and numerous labour rights concerns, frequently impacting most harshly on women and children. Migrant worker issues are also a concern throughout the region, particularly harassment, discrimination, unsafe working conditions, inadequate housing, lack of legal status, and lack of access to remedy.
Even in post-conflict societies such as Timor-Leste, the impact of foreign investment is being felt both positively and negatively--through employment and economic activity, but also in the alleged confiscation of land and in generous taxation incentives which limit revenue flows to the state. . Participants heard the free trade zones of Sri Lanka, like other free trade or export processing zones, are exempted from national labour laws in the garment sector, and women in particular face significant human rights and labour rights violations. In the Philippines poor business practice, and the interests of pharmaceutical giants are seen as contributing to a lack of access to affordable medicines for the poorest.
While OECD country based multinationals are actively sourcing goods and services in the region, many Asian-based companies are developing their regional activities. The personal experiences of participants made it abundantly clear that the mandate of Professor John Ruggie, UN Special Representative of the Secretary General (SRSG) on Business and Human Rights - Protect, Respect and Remedy: A Framework for Business and Human Rights – is of great importance in the region, but the challenges of implementing the new framework are significant.
The Project Report is here.