Asian launch of URG-EIU report on business and human rights
June 2015, Hong Kong
The Universal Rights Group (URG), in cooperation with the Centre for Rights and Justice at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and Mazars, last month helped launch the Economist Intelligence Unit’s (EIU) report on The road from principles to practice: today’s challenges for business in respecting human rights.
This was the first event organised by the URG in Asia, at its Hong Kong hub. URG’s Asia hub is located at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
The event attracted a crowd of over 180 attendees, which included consulate generals, civil servants, CEOs of multinationals, financial and professional services executives, NGO leaders, media representatives, academics and students.
Ms Laurel West, Asia Director of the Thought Leadership Research team at EIU introduced the key findings of the EIU report, while CUHK’s Professor Mimi Zou focused on a the cluster of human rights which 93 per cent of respondents considered to be relevant to their businesses: conditions of employment and work
As an expert on international employment law and former consultant to the International Labour Organization’s offices in Asia, Professor Zou posed the question of how businesses can move towards a ‘Race to the Top’ in the area of labour rights for the 1 billion workers in Asia. She argued that multinational businesses across different sectors have faced various challenges in addressing so-called ‘sweatshop’ working conditions in Asia, especially in the ever-growing complexity of global supply chains. In recent years, the tragedies of FoxConn worker suicides and the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory have illustrated the continued difficulties that multinational businesses face in their oversight of suppliers’ practices, especially where state governance is weak and local enforcement of laws is poor.
To move from principle to practice, Professor Zou highlighted a number of fundamental ILO rights at work that all businesses should respect. These include: workers’ freedom to associate and organise and their freedom to bargain collectively, the elimination of all forms of forced or compulsory labour, the effective abolition of child labour and the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation. Professor Zou also propose the need for workers to be involved in developing, shaping and implementing the human rights policies of businesses, which point to the importance of workplace dialogue and employee involvement in business decision-making across all levels.
The EIU report, which was launched in Geneva and London earlier this year, is based a global survey of 853 senior corporate executives and in-depth interviews with a range of experts conducted by EIU in November and December 2014. The respondents’ companies are geographically and sectorally diverse, and also varied in size and revenue. The report’s main findings of report are:
- A large majority of executives now believe that business is an important player in respecting human rights, and what their companies do — or fail to do — affects those rights
- Companies see human rights mainly as a stakeholder and ethical issue; a business case for respecting human rights focused on more immediate costs and benefits is less widely accepted
- While corporate attitudes are evolving fairly quickly, concrete steps to reform company policies and to communicate such changes externally are slower to follow
- Companies are still coming to grips with what their responsibilities mean in practice, a process that will also take time
- Current leaders in corporate action on human rights have moved ahead by embedding respect for human rights within their organisations, but acknowledge that they still have much to learn.
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