ASEAN Implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights pushed by stakeholders

29 October 2015, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia - At a workshop co-organised by the ASEAN CSR Network (ACN) with Singapore Management University’s Asian Business & Rule of Law Initiative (SMU-ABRL), stakeholders from the private sector, civil society, academe and government gathered to exchange views on how to implement the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGP) in Southeast Asia. At the centre of the discussions was the importance of developing national and regional action plans and how to put into practice the UNGP’s  ‘Protect, Respect and Remedy” framework.

Mohammad Shafee Abdullah, Malaysia’s representative and current chair of the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) delivered the keynote address while UN Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises (UNWG) member and former chair Michael Addo chaired the plenary discussion. Opening the day’s discussions, ACN’s CEO Thomas Thomas shared: “The UN Guiding Principles represent an important opportunity to further define and implement the human rights obligations of businesses. The ACN is proud to be working with SMU and other partners to provide a platform for charting the future of the UNGPs in ASEAN.”

The workshop was held on the last day of the ASEAN Responsible Forum in Kuala Lumpur which ran from 27-29 October 2015. Co-organized by ACN with partners Oxfam and ASEAN Foundation, and local hosts Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers, the 3-day event tackled how responsible business practices can be mainstreamed in the post-2015 ASEAN Community and how the private sector can contribute more towards the realization of an inclusive, equitable and sustainable ASEAN Community. This necessitates tackling key regional issues such as corruption, human rights, and sustainable agriculture.

At the side workshop, A/Prof. Mahdev Mohan, Director of SMU-ABRL, presented the final report on national action plans for business and human rights (NAPs) developed by coalition partners from Asia and Africa, which also includes ACN and the Centre for Applied Legal Studies of the University of Witwatersrand, and submitted to the UNWG on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations. A/Prof. Mahdev Mohan shared:  “SMU is honored to have collaborated with the ACN, and to have been part of an international team of experts tasked with conducting research on legal and regulatory issues across two continents.  That this United Nations-backed Africa-Asia collaboration is unprecedented has made the project all the more significant.”

Some of the findings presented include:

  1. Trade & Investment: Unprecedented foreign investment in the Global South brings  benefits; but potential public health, environmental, and human rights risks as well. Beyond international norms, NAPs in ASEAN should reference clauses contained within ASEAN agreements, such as the ASEAN Comprehensive Investment Agreement (ACIA) and other trade & investment treaties, which oblige foreign investors to respect the member countries’ right to regulate in the public interest. 
  2. Infrastructure: NAPs can be a means of monitoring infrastructure projects in Asia and Africa. For example, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), a much-lauded US$100 billion lender launched this year, appears to have few environmental and social governance safeguards in place. NAPs can call for the periodic assessment and review, and thus better ensure that any related environmental and human rights impacts are mitigated.
  3. Role of Asian Business: Economic integration dominates African and Asian policy agendas. Forward-thinking businesses and business associations in the Global South agree that sustainable development is necessary, and have a crucial role to play in devising and implementing NAPs.

The research findings and recommendations will inform the progressive update of the UNWG’s Guidance on NAPs.  For the full report, please visit

The workshop received funding support from the Government of Sweden through its Embassy in Bangkok and the Asia-Europe Foundation with support from the European Union. The British Institute of International and Comparative Law and law firm Norton Rose Fulbright shared their expertise at the workshop.


In 2011, the Human Rights Council in Geneva unanimously endorsed the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights: Implementing the United Nations “Protect, Respect and Remedy” Framework (Guiding Principles). The authoritative global reference point for business and human rights, these Guiding Principles outline global standards for preventing and addressing business-related human rights harm. Shortly thereafter, the Human Rights Council established the UNWG to promote the effective implementation of the Guiding Principles and provide advice and recommendations regarding the development of domestic legislation and policies relating to business and human rights. A core component of the UNWG’s mandate is translating the Guiding Principles from ideals into practice. Both the report and this workshop aim to help inform the UNWG’s work and provide a platform for discussion on how the implement the Guiding Principles within the context of ASEAN integration.


For further information:

Ast/Prof. Mahdev Mohan, Director, Asian Business & Rule of Law Initiative, SMU

Jerry Bernas, Program Director, ASEAN CSR Network