Impact of business on climate and human rights the focus of Day 2 of ASEAN Responsible Business Forum

Making a business case for a greener economy and ensuring the rights of those working along the supply chain rights were two major topics of focus on Day 2 of the ASEAN Responsible Business Forum.

The first session of Day 2 included panellists from business, government and international organisations, providing a robust look at the issue of climate impact from different perspectives.

Mr Chia Boon Chong from Singtel and Ms Ester An from City Developments Limited both stressed the need for businesses to look ahead and anticipate, and to put in place measures that would make business more resilient to the impact of climate change. For small and medium enterprises (SMEs), the lack of talent and access to information hinders them from implementing green policies, but there is a need for SMEs to start early invest in this area as regulations will tighten, said Mr Hervé Simon of Ayam Brand, who is also the Chairman of the Board for Southeast Asia Alliance for Sustainable Palm Oil.  Governments can put in policies that encourages businesses to go green, as it not only provides opportunities for solutions to be found, it could also create new opportunities for green industries to grow, as Dr Mushtaq Ahmed Memon from the United Nations Environment Programme and Ms Leonie Lee from Singapore’s Ministry of Environment and Water shared. The panellists agreed that for green policies and efforts to be adopted require outreach and education so that people’s behaviours can change.

In the second session on managing human rights due diligence in the supply chain, panellist Mr Christopher Ng of global union body UNI APRO said that respect for human rights is important for the long-term sustainability of society as a whole, and ASEAN’s development is not sustainable unless we acknowledge the issue of human rights in the supply chain. Mr Mark Hodge from Shift highlighted the greater demand for due diligence and supply chain management today, and companies should engage their suppliers. Dr Seree Nonthasoot from the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) said that companies can use the UN Guiding Principles (UNGPs) Reporting or OECD guidelines to implement such due diligence, and the focus can begin form big companies as they are at the pinnacle in the supply chain. Mr Edmund Bon of ACHIR stressed the culture of the company needs to be considered with the management giving its commitment to uphold human rights in its supply chain. Otherwise, individuals in the company cannot enact change by themselves. Due diligence is different from a checklist-based audits an include communications to everyone in the supply chain. Mr Simon Bennett of Swire Offshore Pacific shared with the audience the case study of his company which ensures that those working on ship recycling projects of his company are employed with proper contracts and are working in an environment that is safe. It may cost 8% of its revenue “but it is the right thing to do.”

In her closing remarks at the Forum, Ms Yanti Triwadiantini, Chair of ASEAN CSR Network highlighted that corporate cultures need to be built around ethical and responsibilities and “the biggest barrier is the barrier to act”. The digital economy is an opportunity for growth, but there are risks that needs to be managed. In addition, a new generation of businesses may not be aware of the necessity of incorporating responsibility into their core business. Therefore, the need to strengthen the CSR network in ASEAN through Memorandum of Understanding such as a one signed with Asean Mentorship for Entrepreneurs Network provides opportunities for success, to inspire other companies.

Following the close of the Forum, a Business and Human Rights Workshop was held where participants were introduced to the UNGPs and how it can be used as framework by companies to manage human rights in their supply chains. The workshop was presented by Professor Mahdev Mohan from the Singapore Management University, Dr Seree Nonthasoot and Mr Edmund Bon from the ACHIR, and Ms Laura Greene from the International Organization for Migration. At the same time partners organisations also met as part of the Regional Working Group on Business Integrity.