States have a duty to regulate businesses to protect human rights

States have a duty to regulate businesses to protect human rights

Conference Report:

The duty of the State to protect human rights and regulate the behaviour of business organizations was the focal point of discussions at Asia Centre’s International Conference on Business and Human Rights: Holding Governments Accountable (BHR Conference), held on 12 and 13 July 2018 in Bangkok. The focus on the duty of the State was deemed important by the conference participants as Asian countries increasingly consider the development of national action plans (NAPs) on BHR.

Experts from around the world analysed the multifaceted linkages between business operations and international human rights norms but circled back to point to the duty of the State to protect. They highlighted policy and legislative challenges affecting the capacity of states to uphold such norms as stipulated in Pillar One of the UN Guiding Principles (UNGPs) on Business and Human Rights.

While NAPs on BHR by Governments are welcome, Dr. Seree Nonthasoot, Thailand’s representative to the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR), reminded participants in his guest appearance, NAPs should not provide a means for States to neglect their existing obligations under international law.

Likewise, participants pointed out that voluntarist corporate social responsibility (CSR) undertakings by business organisations are not the same as a human rights based approach in the UNGPs. Many at the two day conference felt that on occasions CSR was just a publicity tool that companies used for branding purposes and not a commitment to human rights principles.

Presentations were made by over 40 specialists on a broad range of issues such as the interdependence of the three pillars (protect, respect and remedy) of the UNGPs. They also discussed violations of land rights, indigenous peoples’ rights, mining, environment and labour rights. The increasing impact of Chinese business interests in Southeast Asia was also raised. To wrap up the proceedings, a closing panel considered innovative, cutting edge research on the relationship between human rights and architecture, artificial intelligence and smart cities. Participants discussed the need to place the human being at the centre of all discussions as society becomes dominated by innovation and technology.

The BHR Conference, in partnership with Forum Asia and Thammasat University ASEAN-China program and supported by the Taiwan Democracy Foundation, is the third human rights conference by Asia Centre that reviewed the contemporary challenges in Southeast Asia and the wider region through evidence-based research. The first examined the impact of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on human rights protection in Southeast Asia (2016) and the second, the protection role of national human rights institutions in the region (2017).

The Centre will convene its fourth annual human rights conference on “Fake News and Elections in Asia” on 11 and 12 July 2019. It is presently accepting abstracts for papers and special panels as well as proposals for collaborations and partnerships. If interested please email contact@asiacentre.org.

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