Day 2 | 21 September
Citizens and Consumers: The missing link
The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) outline the complementary state duty to protect human rights and business responsibility to respect human rights. The UNGPs also emphasise that civil society actors play an indispensable role in realizing more responsible business practices. It is widely acknowledged that civil society organizations, human rights defenders and journalists play indispensable roles in exposing business-related human rights abuses in society. Once awareness about business and human rights issues (BHR) has been raised, citizens and consumers can be instrumental in pushing governments and businesses to address business and human rights (BHR) issues.
The architect of the UNGPs, the late John Ruggie, argued that the failure of businesses to meet their responsibility to respect human rights can subject them to “the courts of public opinion”. Indeed, consumer scrutiny can harm a company’s reputation and jeopardize its social license to operate. Moreover, consumer behaviour can also influence the financial performance of companies. For example, consumer boycotts can disincentivise companies to disrespect human rights, whereas the willingness of consumers to pay a premium for responsible products or services can incentivise companies to respect human rights. Viewed in this light, in some instances responsible consumption could help strengthen the business case to respect human rights.
Unfortunately, often a business case to respect human rights might not exist or lead to changes in business practices, for example, because the business is not consumer-facing, or because consumers do not take into account human rights performance when purchasing products or services. In those instances, citizens and others can have a key role in incentivize governments to protect human rights and advocating for the development and enforcement of BHR legislation.
Against this background, the session aims to discuss how to build impactful social movements across Asia-Pacific to promote business respect for human rights.
The key objectives of this session are to:
Discuss how citizens and consumers can promote business respect for human rights
Highlight examples of how citizens and consumers have strengthened political will and responsible business practices;
Identify how to harness the power of citizens and consumers in promoting greater business respect for human rights moving forward.
Panelists will reflect on the following questions:
What are some examples of how consumers have influenced (ir)responsible business behaviour, and how citizens have strengthened political will to protect human rights, in Asia and beyond?
What opportunities exist, and what challenges need to be overcome, to harness the power of citizens and consumers in promoting greater business respect for human rights in Asia and the Pacific ?
In the face of shrinking civic space, what strategies can be employed to facilitate the emergence or maintenance of social movements? How can voices be amplified in environments where dissent is discouraged and/or punished?