The Business of Human Rights: SRSG Consultation with civil society
7 July 2006 6:00 pm
United Nations Special Representative to the Secretary General (UN SRSG) on Transnational Business and Human Rights held a regional consultation in Bangkok on the issue of "Business and Human Rights" on 26-27 June 2006. FORUM-ASIA's Pia Oberoi attended the session. This was the second regional consultation held by the SRSG, following one held in Johannesburg, South Africa . The consultation was attended by representatives of national and regional NGOs working on issues related to the human rights impact of business, representatives of the private sector, trade unions as well as intergovernmental organizations.
On 26-27 June, the United Nations Special Representative to the Secretary General on Transnational Business and Human Rights held a regional consultation in Bangkok on the issue of “Business and Human Rights”. This was the second regional consultation held by the SRSG, following one held in Johannesburg, South Africa. The consultation was attended by representatives of national and regional NGOs working on issues relating to the human rights impact of business, representatives of the private sector, trade unions as well as intergovernmental organizations. FORUM-ASIA was represented at this consultation by Pia Oberoi, Coordinator of the Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and Development Programme.
The consultation was intended to focus on the theme of “supply chain management” such as in the garment and footwear industries, looking at the role in this regard of governments, of civil society, of actors such as the International Labour Organisation, and lastly the role of the SRSG himself. The discussion was wide-ranging, addressing issues such as company codes of conduct, workplace standards, industry initiatives, multi-stakeholder initiatives, accreditation programmes, and advocacy campaigns for workers’ rights. However, several participants at the meeting, particularly representatives of civil society, questioned the exclusive focus on supply chain issues at the consultation, raising the issue of the numerous human rights violations caused by other industries. In particular, the issue of extractive industries, such as mining, oil and gas production, and dam construction, was raised as an important one in the Asian region, where transnational corporations involved in these industries have been and continue to be responsible human rights violations. It was recommended to the SRSG that his final report contain mention of the importance of regulation of the extractive industries in the Asian region, in addition to human rights management of supply chains.
As the discussion progressed, several participants noted that issues of business and human rights in the Asian region were not confined merely to advocacy towards and monitoring of the activities of large Western-based transnational corporations. In Asia increasingly, more “home-grown” businesses are emerging as leading players (such as South Korean companies in Burma and India, or Chinese companies which are expanding as far afield as Africa), and human rights regulations should be addressed as much to these companies as to Nike, Walmart or Shell. In addition, the issue of sub-contractors is particularly difficult in terms of advocacy or even monitoring. Such sub-contractors are usually small firms with little or no brand-name to protect, and often limited desire to enforce voluntary codes of conduct for human rights compliance, yet at the same time are the ones that are directly responsible for committing the violations. This is a vital issue for the Asian region, yet one that was not adequately addressed during the consultation.
The discussion centred around issues of accountability, and more than once participants brought up the United Nations Human Rights Norms for Business (UN Norms). Such standards could be a crucial measure to establish the effective accountability of transnational corporations for human rights violations. Voluntary codes of conduct have time and time again proved to be ineffective in regulating the activities of transnational corporations; there is a need for strong, and legally enforceable, standards to achieve justice and remedies for victims of abuse. FORUM-ASIA, in common with civil society organizations across Asia, believes that the UN Norms offers a robust model for a truly global standard that would help companies assess the compatibility of their actions with international human rights and labour rights standards.