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Human Rights and Business in Southeast Asia

1330–1530, Friday 15 April 2016, L1

Sol Iglesias
National University of Singapore


The basic problem of business and human rights is well recognised: states bear the primary duty for human rights protection. Initiatives such as the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights thus offer a framework for protection, respect and remedies that involve both state and non-state actors. However, unless businesses directly aid and abet abuses, the matter of legal responsibility is unclear when corporations benefit but state agents are the ones who commit violations. Accountability is even more tenuous when businesses simply remain silent regarding state-sponsored violations that they could have instead exposed or influenced.

How should practitioners and scholars address the considerable challenges facing business and human rights in Southeast Asia? The purpose of this panel is to clarify key problems in the region and offer possible solutions from existing experiences as well as good practices, globally.

Many issues stem from unevenness in the rule of law across Southeast Asian countries. States present a mixed bag of hard and soft authoritarian regimes as well as “transitioning” and weak democracies. Consequently, a range of civil and political rights violations occurs in the form of land grabbing, labour exploitation (including trafficking and slavery), as well as attacks on human rights defenders. Furthermore, corporate social responsibility tends to be oriented towards philanthropy or managing risks to the company, rather than being treated as an integral value. In practical terms, businesses often lack mechanisms for due diligence as well as for monitoring specialised standards. Finally, certain areas grapple with difficulties related to recent or on-going conflict as in Burma/Myanmar as well as Mindanao in the Philippines. In particular, extractive industries have been implicated in population displacements and egregious violence.

In which sectors are these issues most prevalent, and where are communities acutely vulnerable? How can existing tools and institutions for business and human rights mitigate these vulnerabilities? Do measures work across global supply chains as well as locally situated businesses? Do institutions such as the ASEAN Inter-governmental Commission on Human Rights or national human rights commissions offer non-judicial remedies? What advocacies and actions should states, businesses, civil society and academics prioritise?

This panel shall generate insights relevant to both practitioners and scholars in the fields of human rights, business studies, supply chain management, corporate social responsibility, environment and sustainability, labour, public international law and politics.


  • Chair: Sol Iglesias (National University of Singapore)

Sol Iglesias was Director for Intellectual Exchange (now the Politics and Economics department) at the Asia-Europe Foundation from 2009 to 2012. She participated in the Asia consultation that led to the UN framework on Business and Human Rights. For three years, she was on the International Panel of Experts that reviewed the annual CSR report of Abengoa, a major Spanish renewable energy company. She is currently a PhD candidate at the Southeast Asian Studies department of the National University of Singapore.

  • Robert McCorquodale (British Institute of International and Comparative Law)

Professor Robert McCorquodale has been the Director of BIICL since January 2008. Robert’s research is primarily in public international law. This includes matters of international human rights law, the role of non-state actors, the right of self-determination, and on business and human rights issues. Robert is also a Professor of International Law and Human Rights at the University of Nottingham, and a barrister at Brick Court Chambers in London.

  • Salil Tripathi (Institute of Human Rights and Business)

Salil Tripathi is Senior Adviser, Global Issues at the Institute of Human Rights and Business. Salil has long standing experience in advancing the business and human rights agenda. As a researcher at Amnesty International (1999‑2005) he participated in negotiations that created the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme and represented Amnesty in the Voluntary Principles for Security and Human Rights process from its inception until 2008. As senior policy advisor at International Alert (2006-2008) he played a key role in the process that developed the Red Flags initiative. He sits on the External Citizenship Advisory Panel of Exxon. From 1991-1999, Salil was a foreign correspondent based in Singapore and Hong Kong. He is the author of three works of non-fiction and the Chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee.

  • Donna Guest (Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business/Institute of Human Rights and Business)

Donna Guest is Senior Advisor, South East Asia, at the Institute of Human Rights and Business. Since 2013 Donna has worked closely with IHRB’s Myanmar Sector Wide Impact Assessment (SWIA) team on drafting and editing key sections of two SWIAs on Oil and Gas and on ICT.  She has also written three briefing papers for the Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business (MCRB), which IHRB jointly founded with the Danish Institution for Human Rights, on land rights, civil society organisations in the extractive sector, and indigenous peoples.  Donna also works with MCRB and IHRB on drafting and editing other publications and submissions. Donna came to IHRB from Amnesty International where she worked on human rights in South East Asia for over 20 years. Most recently, she served as Amnesty’s deputy director for South East Asia and the Pacific.

  • Kate Lappin (Regional Coordinator, Asia-Pacific Forum on Women, Law, and Development)

Kate Lappin has worked for 20 years in the promotion of women’s rights. She is the Regional Coordinator of the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD) which is a network of 200 women’s rights organisations and activists in 25 countries of the Asia Pacific region based in Chiang Mai, Thailand. APWLD is the Women’s Major Group representative for the Asia Pacific and chairs the Asia Pacific Regional Civil Society Engagement Mechanism – the body established for civil society to engage the UN and governments around the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agenda. She is a member of the UN Women’s Asia Pacific Civil Society Advisory Committee, sits on the Executive Committee of the Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition and the coordinating committee of the Southeast Asian Women’s Caucus on ASEAN, amongst others.