Corporate Human Rights Abuses in ASEAN: Civil Society Calls for Corporate Accountability and Compliance with International Human Rights Law

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(Bangkok) – Civil society groups called for greater corporate accountability in the region, which requires a regulatory framework based on international human rights norms and standards, to address the escalation of corporate human rights abuses in ASEAN, during the launch of a report, titled Corporate Accountability in ASEAN: A Human Rights-Based Approach, in Jakarta. The report, published by regional human rights NGO Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), was officially presented to the Thai representative to the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR), Dr. Seree Nonthasoot, during the 6th Regional Consultation on ASEAN and Human Rights held in Jakarta on 1-3 October 2013.
The ASEAN civil society’s call for greater corporate accountability comes against the backdrop of ASEAN governments’ continued push for the creation of an ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) by 2015 that would facilitate accelerated cross-border trade and investment in the region, which civil society claims is not accompanied by adequate safeguards set in place for those marginalized by the process.
Originating from cases gathered at two public hearings on the issue of corporate accountability in 2011, held in response to the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR)’s undertaking of a thematic study on the topic of Corporate Social Responsibility in ASEAN, the civil society report contains documentation of cases of corporate human rights abuses in the region. The publication of the report involved a wide variety of civil society networks and organizations, both at the national and regional levels.
One of the organizations involved in the preparation of the report, Focus on the Global South, highlighted that large-scale projects in the region, such as mining, dams, roads and industrial plantations, carried out in the context of ASEAN countries’ resource extractive model of economic growth, often without adequate human rights safeguards, have led to widespread environmental degradation and resulted in negative impacts on human rights, cultures and livelihoods of peoples and communities in the region.
“Land grabbing, involuntary resettlement, forced evictions, the loss of traditional livelihoods and access to natural resources and other human rights violations perpetrated by state and non-state actors in the context of business activities have become endemic in the region. Destructive projects are carried out despite strong opposition from affected communities,” said Dorothy Guerrero of Focus of the Global South.
The report makes a detailed list of recommendations to ASEAN governments and institutions, including its regional human rights mechanisms, businesses, and national human rights institutions in addressing the legal and institutional deficits in the protection of human rights in the region, the State-business nexus that has resulted in unaccountable decision-making, barriers to information and public participation, and access to justice and remedy in cases of corporate human rights abuses.
“Governments and businesses must ensure access to information, participation and consultation of affected groups in decision-making processes. There is also an increasing phenomenon of pursuing criminal prosecutions against human rights defenders working in the context of monitoring business activities and advocating for corporate accountability. ASEAN governments must immediately stop the criminalization of the legitimate work of human rights defenders,” said Evelyn Balais-Serrano, Executive Director of FORUM-ASIA, while deploring the most recent case of imprisonment of ten human rights defenders just last week for protesting against the Shwe Gas Project in Burma, one of the cases featured in the report.
The civil society report also highlights the urgent need for ASEAN governments and businesses to recognize and respect the right to Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) of indigenous peoples as specifically stipulated in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and other international instruments.
The report’s main thrust is that existing voluntary Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives promoted by businesses and by ASEAN institutions, such as the AICHR, are insufficient to address the corporate human rights abuses. AICHR has since 2011 undertaken a thematic study on Corporate Social Responsibility in ASEAN, which is to date still a work-in-progress.
“ASEAN governments and institutions, including the AICHR, must move away from the voluntary Corporate Social Responsibility approach towards principles of Corporate Accountability, which places legally binding and enforceable requirements upon businesses to respect international human rights norms and standards and provides meaningful redress for human rights violations. Existing national laws across ASEAN should be reviewed to ensure this,” said Corinna Lopa of the South East Asian Committee for Advocacy (SEACA).
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President Kim Responds to Civil Society’s Concern on Private Sector Investments

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WASHINGTON, December 9, 2013 – The World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim issued the following statement today:
“I am well aware of the concerns expressed recently from civil society groups about several projects involving the World Bank Group. I’d like to respond to those concerns here and also pledge to continue an ongoing dialogue with civil society leaders on issues such as these during my tenure at the World Bank Group.”
At the World Bank Group, we are moving aggressively toward aligning our operations with our goals of ending extreme poverty by 2030 and boosting shared prosperity for the bottom 40 percent of populations in developing countries. If we are to have high aspirations for the poor, we will need to raise our ambitions and work with governments, the private sector, and civil society groups to take on transformative projects that can help the poor lift themselves out of poverty. This will be a difficult but necessary process if we are to end extreme poverty and build shared prosperity.

We have years of experience in implementing complex projects. Over the past decades, we have developed this expertise in order to both bring benefits for the poor and help grow economies. This involves a wide range of activities, including planning investments; procuring goods, works and services; protecting and involving indigenous communities; and protecting the environment and the rights of the poor.

We have learned from failure and success. Governments, private corporations, and civil society groups recognize that our experience in complex projects is a core expertise of the World Bank Group. Governments seek to partner with us not only for our financing but also for our technical knowledge and practical experience around the world.  Private companies tell us they want to be involved with IFC, our private sector arm, because of our environmental and social risk management capability — and also because our performance standards now constitute a global benchmark. IFC’s strong track record in environmental and social risk management has made it a partner of choice. Because we need to attract much more private sector investment in developing countries, IFC’s role ahead will clearly grow in significance.

An essential aspect of our work in developing countries involves the Inspection Panel and the Office of the Compliance Advisor/Ombudsman (CAO). These independent bodies ensure that our policies are credibly and effectively applied. They open up a channel for people affected by World Bank Group-financed investments and give them an opportunity to be heard.

One good recent example of giving voice to an affected community occurred in Uganda, where a CAO mediation resulted in an agreement between the Mubende community and agribusiness investors. In a country where large-scale agribusiness projects are a means of attracting foreign investment and creating employment, vulnerable communities also may face resettlement and food insecurity. The CAO mediation process created a platform for the community and private sector to come together and reach agreement on sensitive issues.

The CAO and the Inspection Panel enhance our impact and they help us further improve our effectiveness. Since its creation, the CAO has helped IFC develop a risk-based approach and shape its own procedures and policies. I am proud that these independent bodies – the CAO and the Inspection Panel — were the first recourse mechanism of their kind among multilateral institutions. I am committed to ensuring that they continue to play that role.

Today, there is renewed attention to IFC projects in both India and Honduras, and renewed focus on IFC’s financial sector investments. I take very seriously the conclusions from the CAO audit reports.  In the two country cases, we will make sure that action plans developed by IFC address the issues identified by the CAO’s reports.  In the case of the Honduras project, for which the CAO report is still being reviewed, IFC’s executive vice president will issue a statement and an action plan in response to CAO’s conclusions. On this case and others, IFC’s executive vice president will periodically report to me on the steps taken to ensure that these action plans are effectively implemented. Separately, CAO will also regularly inform me on IFC’s implementation of these action plans.

In the financial sector, which constitutes a growing share of IFC’s portfolio, we face a challenging task of tracking large volumes of transactions. Our policy is that we will ensure our clients have an environment and social management system to assess and manage these risks, including the application of the IFC Performance Standards.  More generally, I have emphasized the importance of responding directly to the findings of the World Bank Group’s independent accountability mechanisms.

Over the last several months, I have called for taking on bolder, transformative projects and not to be afraid of taking smart risks if these projects represent a way to help countries lift people out of poverty and boost shared prosperity. I also want our safeguards policies to be even more effective. The on-going World Bank’s safeguard review for investment projects provides us an opportunity to achieve this.  But taking smart risks includes managing non-financial risks in order to help us achieve good outcomes for the poor and not compromise the core values of our institution. I believe that the interests of the poor and those of our shareholders are, in fact, aligned and that social progress and environmental protection can be strongly correlated to economic growth and financial profitability.   This is why the World Bank’s safeguards policies and IFC’s performance standards will remain a cornerstone of our business.” 

Invest in girls’ education to break cycle of poverty: UNICEF

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NEW DELHI: Investing in education of girls, especially the most marginalized, is required to make progress on most social indicators in India, according to UNICEF.

To mark the second International Day of the Girl Child, UNICEF on Friday organized a meeting with top Urdu editors in the capital.

Speaking at the event, Urmila Sarkar, chief of education UNICEF, said, “Innovation in girls education will be instrumental to female empowerment and breaking the cycle of poverty and deprivation.”

The focus of the meeting was on the crucial role that media can play to create a sustained discourse and highlight innovations that get more girls to school, keep them in school and improve the quality of learning for all children.

In India, the number of out-of-school children stands at 8.1 million, of which 4.5 million are girls. For every 100 boys enrolled, 88 girls are enrolled in secondary school. The main causes of school dropout among girls are child marriage and child labour, the UNICEF said.

Giving examples of how communities have arranged for safe school transport for girls in hard-to-reach areas from Udaipur, Rajasthan, Sarkar stressed on innovation in girls education and highlighted the importance of gender sensitization.

“Teachers who have undergone gender sensitization training have made a significant difference for adolescent girls in schools,” she said.

The conference was chaired by the vice-chancellor of Maulana Azad National Urdu University Mohammed Miyan and director general, Doordarshan News, S M Khan.

The participants shared examples of how technology coupled with media outreach, has increased access to education for out-of-school girls and improved the quality of learning for every child.

They urged Urdu media to dedicate media space and build capacities of reporters to highlight issues and innovations in education, especially of girls.

Civil society representatives from Shikhar, Prof Rihan Khan Suri and Ambarish Rai of the RTE Forum spoke on how civil society efforts can build on the momentum created by a conducive educational policy framework and ensure that girls have access to quality learning environments.

States, civil society embarking on new partnership, says UN Assembly President

561031-johnasheJohn Ashe, President of the 68th General Assembly, addresses the opening of the General Debate. UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

UN News Centre- Oct 3, 2013

The General Assembly is embarking on a new partnership between Member States and civil society, the President of the 68th body, John Ashe, today said highlighting the role of non-governmental organizations and other partners in shaping a new global development agenda.

“I believe we are embarking on an openness now,” Mr. Ashe told journalists in New York in his first press conference since the Assembly’s annual General Debate wrapped up on Tuesday. “As we begin to move along, we will begin to see more of this, moving towards a new norm.”

The current dialogues have achieved a “happy medium” between the kind of participation that civil society desire and the type with which Member States are comfortable, he said.

“It’s not possible without civil society,” the Assembly President continued, adding: “Civil society should help to define what we hope to be a universal global development agenda.”

Mr. Ashe had chosen the theme for this year’s General Assembly, “The Post-2015 Development Agenda: Setting the Stage!,” which would begin in the period after the 2015 deadline of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Calling it “remarkable,” Mr. Ashe noted that despite situations in Syria and the Middle East which featured prominently over the seven days of the Debate, the majority of Member States commended the choice of theme and pledged their support.

“Despite wars, trials and tribulations, and famine, floods, virtually all the Member States that spoke did address the theme in one way or another, welcomed the choice and pledged their support and cooperation to advancing the theme,” he noted.

On the eve of the high-level debate, which opened on 24 September, Mr. Ashe and UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson took part in a special event in which regional civil society networks presented their recommendations in Arabic, English, French and Spanish for a post-2015 agenda.

The event – ‘Advancing Regional Recommendations on Post-2015: A Dialogue between Civil Society, Governments and UN Representatives’ – brought together more than 1,100 civil society representatives, along with Member States and UN officials.

UNITAID wooing India to become contributing member

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UNITAID, which buys three fourth of its total quantity medicines from India for its global programmes, is wooing India to become a contributing member and enter its board to make a difference for the developing world.

As part of garnering support in this endeavour, UNITAID’s executive director Dr Denis Broun held discussions with the Union Ministers, senior officials from different ministries including Health, Commerce and the Chemicals, apart from meeting other stakeholders in the last couple of days.

Expressing optimism about India joining the global agency, Dr Broun said India was looking for a greater role in UN agencies and should grab this opportunity. “The response by the leadership was positive and I hope, India will be a contributing member and thus become a board member of UNITAID, thus pushing its agenda to have a more active role in the UN bodies,” he told Pharmabiz.

“We have sought around five million dollar contribution from India per year so that India can become a member in the board. Now the board is dominated by the western countries. There will be big difference if India joins the board as India is better aware of the ground situations in the developing world, unlike many other members,” he said.
UNITAID, which is facilitating the availability of life-saving drugs to patients especially in the poorer economies, bought drugs worth $600 million in the last five years from Indian companies. The agency buys medicines from about 16 Indian companies, mainly the top level players.

“India is the leading supplier, accounting for about three fourth of our medicines. This is to grow further in the coming years. We have programmes worth $50 million currently in India. More than this, we play a catalytic role as we bring down the prices of drugs, setting up a benchmark for global associations and agencies. The drug manufacturers are thus forced to supply the drugs to all major global agencies at the reduced prices that we negotiate and fix,” he said.

Dispelling the quality concerns about Indian drugs, he said the agency never came across any issues or incidents regarding quality of drugs from India. “We have a very strict quality policy, though we promote generic drugs,” he added.

During his visit to India, he also interacted with all major pharmaceutical suppliers to address their concerns like delay in payments. “There are of course concerns about the small profit margin. We have to strike a balance between profit of the company and the affordability. UNITAID was also looking towards India as an innovator and wanted to give a push to the efforts,” he added.

UNITAID was established in 2006 by the governments of Brazil, Chile, France, Norway and the United Kingdom as the “International Drug Purchasing Facility.” Today it is backed by an expanding “North-South” membership, including Cyprus, Korea, Luxembourg, Spain and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation alongside Cameroon, Congo, Guinea, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritius and Niger. Civil society groups also govern UNITAID, giving a voice to non-governmental organisations and communities living with HIV, malaria and tuberculosis.

UNITAID, hosted by the World Health Organisation and based in Geneva,  uses innovative financing to increase funding for greater access to treatments and diagnostics for HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis in low-income countries. UNITAID is the first global health organisation to use buy-side market leverage to make life-saving health products better and more affordable for developing countries. Approximately half of UNITAID’s finances come from a levy on air tickets.

Courtesy :Joseph Alexander, New Delhi

Fukushima nuclear power site leaks 300 tons of radioactive water

On Aug. 20, a spokesman from Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), the operator of Japan’s damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power facility, announced that 300 tons of highly contaminated water has escaped the facility and leaked into the ground.

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Puddles of radioactive water were discovered by TEPCO workers near an inland tank Monday, prompting further investigation. It was soon discovered that a 1,000-ton capacity steel storage tank was missing some 300 tons of highly radioactive water. According to reports, the water contains levels of radioactive cesium and strontium that are hundreds of times higher than legal safety limits.

Officials from TEPCO have said they believe the leak did originate from the tank, but are still uncertain how or where in particular the leak occurred. The incident has sparked particular concern because four other storage tanks with the same design have also experienced leaks over the past year, the Associated Press reported.

The seriousness of the leak has also prompted Japan’s nuclear regulators to declare a radiological release incident for the first time since 2011, when a high level earthquake and subsequent tsunami resulted in a nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima complex.

TEPCO has said the leak is mostly likely ongoing and has set its focus on stemming any further spread of the contamination. Workers have been placing sandbags around the tank vessel in an attempt to stave off the water leak as the region braces for heavy rainfall.

Bonded Labour System still a reality

NEW DELHI: After losing her husband to an illness, Jeyanthi (name changed) was forced to step in as the bread earner for her six young children. With no education, work was hard to come by for her, and existence was at bare subsistence levels. Jeyanthi got by, working as a casual labourer; and as her sons became older, they too pitched in. Life was to take a nastier turn for Jeyanthi when her eldest child was to get married. Even the most shoe-string wedding budget worked out to Rs 10,000, money that Jeyanthi didn’t have. She also had no land or asset she could sell, anything of value she had was long gone.

Like many before her in her village, in Andhra Pradesh, Jeyanthi approached the owners of the Sri Lakshmi Modern Rice Mills for a loan and a job to help pay it off. Jeyanthi was made to work long hours under inhuman conditions, she couldn’t go home, her wages were way below the minimum wage rate, and she had to put up with repeated sexual abuse by her employers. Jeyanthi, whose pitiful plight is narrated by the Bandhua 1947 campaign, run by 5 organisations working in this space, is bonded labour – forced or partly forced labour governed by a debtor-creditor agreement. But if you asked the government, there is no such person anymore. Since May, the current UPA government, celebrating its nine years in office, has been putting out a print ad that is headlined: “thanks to MGNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act), no bonded labour anymore”.

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Yet, surveys by civil society organisations and researchers show that even 37 years after Parliament passed the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976 – defining this practice, making it a criminal offence and freeing all bonded labours from their obligations – bonded labour exists in India. And the difference between government and non-government statistics goes back nearly as much.

The government did its one and only survey in 1978, counting 343,000 bonded labourers in 16 states. Earlier that year, in the first-ever survey of bonded labour carried out in India, the Gandhi Peace Foundation and National Labour Institute counted 2.6 million bonded labourers in 10 states. The government stopped counting after that, though it has said that it has rehabilitated 300,000 bonded labourers since the Act came into force. But earlier this year, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimated 11.7 million bonded labourers in India.

Bonded labour has changed over the years. It is no longer limited to the traditional power equation in agriculture, in which the lower castes are expected to perform menial tasks in exchange for guaranteed subsistence. The prevalent system today is one of debt bondage. Poor and without resources, like Jeyanthi, these people take credit from the local landlord or factory owner or contractor.

The loan is akin to an advance on wages, to be paid off by working. Except it would seem the debt is never repaid – and only keeps growing. Piling interest, charges for delayed payments, meagre wages, and fresh loans for subsistence and emergencies means there is no escaping bondage.

Kara, who has spent the last 11 years researching modern slavery in South Asia, puts the weighted average annual profits at $920 per bonded labour, resulting in implied annual profits of $17.6 billion globally.

Kara estimates that when a factory owner acquires a bonded labour for a global weighted average of $200 in South Asia, it can expect a net profit of $2,585 – a compounded annual return on investment of 191% for an average bondage period of 6.3 years.