Report on DDCSA2023 Webinar #3: “Responsible Business and Human Rights in Asia”


On 19 December 2023, JANIC hosted the third and final webinar of the series Defending Democracy and Civic Space in Asia (DDCSA). Together with VANI, the Centre for Human Rights and Development, and the NGO Federation of Nepal (NFN), the conversation sought to discuss and reflect on Responsible Business and Human Rights in Asia and to examine the role that civil society can play in fostering business regulation, increase public awareness, and advocate for sustainable development, creating an inclusive environment for everyone.

The first speakers were from VANI, the Voluntary Action Network in India. Dr. Shabeen Ara provided context for this conversation, starting with the National Action Plan that leads India’s public policy in regard to Business and Human Rights and intends to place rights-holders at its center for greater effectiveness. There are nine national guidelines on responsible business conduct (NGRBC), which VANI helped to prepare and revise, looking to go beyond CSR, and to include each aspect of business behavior in favor of Human Rights. Harsh Jaitli, VANI’s Chief Executive Officer, complemented the presentation with information about the research project that is being carried out to evaluate the role that CSOs can play to help the implementation of this responsible business conduct, especially in a country where trade unions do not have a significant role. An example of this is how CSOs collaborate to bridge between companies and communities. Other issues that the research looks at are the respect of these guidelines throughout all of the supply chains, what happens with Indian companies that operate outside of India and are therefore committed to foreign laws, and how the companies’ willingness to favor Human Rights improved with the appearance of social media and the strengthening of CSOs and social movements.

The following presentation was in charge of Urantsooj Gombosuren, Chair of the Centre for Human Rights and Development in Mongolia. In 2023, the Mongolian government approved a five-year National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights. In this context seeking to raise awareness of UN guiding principles on Business and Human Rights; to strengthen the capacities of the local community members in conducting community-led research on human rights in general and on Business and Human Rights in particular; and to initiate community advocacy for implementation of the National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights; the organization carried out the project “Community Research and Advocacy for the National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights”. Gombosuren presented updates on the project, together with the preliminary results of the survey. One of the striking data that was shared was that 81% of respondents did not know at all about the NAP, indicating that there is further work to do regarding awareness.

The last presentation was in charge of Arjun Bhattarai, Secretary General of the NGO Federation of Nepal (NFN). The objectives of the project he was developing were: to reflect on the roles of stakeholders in NAP on Business and Human Rights and promote Business and Human Rights in Nepal; to increase understanding and acceptability among stakeholders on UN guiding principles based on Business and Human Rights provisions; and to analyze the situation of stakeholder engagement and find gaps and recommendations for an effective implementation of the NAP. To do so, NFN developed a survey, carried out desk review, and multi-stakeholder meetings, collected secondary sources, and organized an interview with five key informants. Some of the key findings included the fact that the creation of the NAP was not an inclusive process, since CSOs were not formally invited to participate in it, nor was its development and implementation. The project suggests which role CSOs could play to effectively implement the NAP, such as the creation of awareness and capacity building for rights holders, referring complaints from rights-holders to remedy channels, supporting the access to legal aid for rights-holders, monitoring business respect for human rights, and providing input for state monitoring processes.

As the presentations came to an end, there was an open space for questions from the audience, further enriching the discussion. The JANIC team shared a website to consult the status of each country’s NAP, created by the Danish Institute for Human Rights.