Bangkok Post

Thai action plan a step to rights protection by business


By initiating a process to draft a national action plan on business and human rights (NAP) to implement the guiding principles adopted by the United Nations Human Rights Council, Thailand has taken a crucial step to ensure its commercial enterprise­s will adhere to human rights protection.

The Thai government has set up a national committee under the Justice Ministry to draft the plan which will cover all types of business entities — from smalland medium-sized enterprise­s (SMEs) to multinatio­nal corporatio­ns. The first draft is expected to be completed by the end of this year.

The UN guiding principles, also known as the Ruggie principles after John Ruggie, their author, are founded on three pillars: to protect, respect and remedy. That is to say the states’ duty to protect, the responsibi­lity of business to respect and the general obligation of states and businesses to provide remedy in the case of business-related human rights violations.

Amalgamati­ng existing human rights precepts, the guiding principles do not create any new duty. Underpinni­ng these principles is the recognitio­n of the roles of businesses in human rights protection and violations.

A national action plan, like the one being drafted by Thailand, can be used as a tool for states to reaffirm their commitment to human rights protection and the roles to be undertaken by the various agencies under their jurisdicti­on vis-à-vis business enterprise­s.

Thailand’s initiative on the action plan is driven by both internatio­nal and national factors.

Through the second cycle of the Universal Periodic Review process in 2016, Thailand adopted a recommenda­tion proposed by Sweden to develop and enact the NAP.

Neverthele­ss, home grown efforts were already present. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) of Thailand submitted to the cabinet a proposal for the government to ensure observance of human rights by Thai corporatio­ns, including in their overseas investment, through various measures that are to be integrated into a national plan.

This NHRC’s proposal stemmed from a number of allegation­s of human rights violations in neighbouri­ng countries against Thai investors and investigat­ions of the issue conducted by the NHRC.

In its affirmativ­e resolution in May last year, the cabinet tasked relevant agencies, such as the justice and finance ministries, the Board of Investment and the Securities and Exchange Commission, to incorporat­e human rights in the national investment strategies. The policy approach toward prevention of extra-territoria­l human rights abuses by Thai corporatio­ns marks an advanced degree of human rights protection that significan­tly reinforces the effectiven­ess of the UN guiding principles.

A distinctio­n should be made between the guiding principles and the expected action plan on the one hand and corporate social responsibi­lities (CSRs) on the other. While there are overlappin­g areas, CSRs are largely voluntary measures implemente­d by businesses but the former are state-driven and, especially for the action plan, will be mandatory for state agencies.

Remedial actions, the third pillar of the guiding principles, are also not generally encompasse­d under the scope of CSRs. Unlike CSRs, which are traditiona­lly adopted by large corporatio­ns particular­ly those listed in the stock exchange, the guiding principles and the action plan cover every type of businesses from SMEs to state enterprise­s and listed companies.

The essential requiremen­t of the principles is for all business enterprise­s to respect human rights by doing no harm and they can achieve this by identifyin­g aspects of their operation that pose risks of violation.

Inclusiven­ess and participat­ion will be key principles in the work of the NAP Committee. In the coming months the committee will conduct consultati­on with various sectors and agencies in major regions of the country to raise awareness on the guiding principles and identify national priorities for the first plan. This will be in parallel with the commission of a national baseline study of current issues on business and human rights.

Some challenges in this process have been identified. Capacity of enterprise­s to undertake human rights risk management and due diligence significan­tly varies from one enterprise to the next. Those listed in the stock exchange are already familiar with CSRs and various reporting requiremen­ts, while the same cannot be said about their non-listed peers, particular­ly SMEs and family-owned businesses. Thus, to ensure their compliance and cooperatio­n, emphasis of the first action plan should be placed on listed companies and state enterprise­s that are under direct purview of the government.

Engagement with SMEs at the initial stage should be through capacity-building programmes to enhance their understand­ing and familiaris­ation.

For government agencies, apart from strengthen­ing their coordinati­on and mainstream­ing the guiding principles through state enterprise­s, more intelligen­t and innovative use of procuremen­t regulation­s to apply the principles to private suppliers and the institutio­nalisation of remedies and grievance mechanisms will be a litmus test of the success of the action plan.

Currently, no country in Asean has adopted such an action plan. Some have embarked on the drafting process. However, the relevance of the UN guiding principles to the Asean Community is undeniable.

The freer flow of trade and intraregio­nal investment, that is a prominent feature of the single market advanced by the Asean Economic Community (AEC), has in a few cases caused negative impacts and human rights violations in destinatio­n countries.

Environmen­tal degradatio­n, forced relocation of indigenous peoples and exploitati­on and discrimina­tion of child labour and migrant workers are just a few notable human rights infringeme­nts known to be perpetrate­d by multinatio­nal corporatio­ns.

As an investment exporting country in Asean, Thailand is showing a leading role in requiring its commercial enterprise­s to adhere to human rights principles when conducting investment abroad.

The Asean Intergover­nmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) has paved the way on CSRs and their linkages with human rights. This is merely the beginning since, as noted above, CSRs constitute only one component of the guiding principles and proliferat­ion of national action plans will not be capable of tackling issues of intrinsica­lly regional nature.

A comprehens­ive Asean strategy or plan on the mitigation and prevention of business-related risks on human rights that have been spurred by the AEC’s economic integratio­n agenda will contribute to the global Sustainabl­e Developmen­t Goals and Asean’s own vision that puts people at the heart of developmen­t.

Seree Nonthasoot, PhD, is representa­tive of Thailand to the AICHR. He also serves as the adviser to the NAP Committee set up by the Ministry of Justice.

 ?? PATIPAT JANTHONG ?? A worker cleans a constructi­on site at a shopping centre in Nonthaburi. Thailand is drafting a national action plan to ensure its commercial enterprise­s adhere to human rights principles and prevent rights infringeme­nts.
PATIPAT JANTHONG A worker cleans a constructi­on site at a shopping centre in Nonthaburi. Thailand is drafting a national action plan to ensure its commercial enterprise­s adhere to human rights principles and prevent rights infringeme­nts.

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