The United Nations' Asia Regional Forum on Business and Human Rights took place from 19-20 April 2016 in Doha, Qatar. This was the first Asian regional forum, which complements the annual forum at the UN in Geneva, and follows similar regional events in Latin America and Africa. The UN's definition of the Asia region stretches from the Middle East to Japan, and the Forum attracted 400 government, business and civil society participants from 60 countries. Japan fielded expert panelists and session moderators, and Ms Miwa Yamada of IDE-JETRO served as one of four expert rapporteurs who provided feedback to participants at the end of the two-day Forum. Moreover Japanese participants included representatives from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, companies Hitachi, LIXIL, JT and EY Japan, IDE-JETRO and the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre Japan.
Key Topics at the Forum
The Forum was comprised of 30 substantive sessions and offered the opportunity for question and answer between the audience and expert panellists. Key points discussed include the following.
Human Rights and Mega Sporting Events
- The selection of Qatar as the host was timely, with scrutiny of worker conditions at construction sites in the Kingdom intensifying as the World Cup approaches. Clearly relevant for Japan - as host of both the Rugby World Cup and the 2020 Olympics - was the discussion about the need for companies associated with such events to diligently ensure that they do not allow rights abuses in their operations and supply chain, which fundamentally conflicts with the positive legacy to which such events aspire.
- Several sessions addressed the rights of migrant workers from various perspectives, including the need for both host and home countries to ensure workers themselves do not pay any recruitment fees, as well as the need to ensure that migrant workers are not subject to substandard labour conditions in host countries. Governments were urged to include human rights-related criteria in evaluating tenders for government contracts, based on a recognition that price-wars can encourage corner cutting, particularly in relation to labour costs.
- This focus is relevant for Japanese companies with the already infamous abuses of the "foreign trainee system" likely to face greater international scrutiny moving forward.
The Asia "Nap Gap"
- UN representatives and civil society lamented what they call the "Asia NAP Gap", meaning that governments in Asia have been slow to develop national action plans for implementing the Guiding Principles. Several smaller Asian nations did report impressive progress towards the drafting of a NAP, and other participants offered support.
- A representative of the UN Working Group noted that there is space for Japan to take leadership in the region, particularly given that the G7 (including Japan) declared at their Elmau Summit that they would produce action plans.
Panel on Japan: Corporate Japan Rises to the Challenge
EY Japan moderated a panel at the Forum entitled "Corporate Japan Rises to the Challenge", co-hosted with IDE-JETRO and the UN Global Compact Network Japan. With the 2020 Olympics bringing the eyes of the world to Japan and its companies, this session took stock of Japanese efforts to implement the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. It also served as a launch event for the UN Global Compact Local Network Japan/EY Japan joint publication, "Business and Human Rights - Corporate Japan Rises to the challenge", which includes case studies on human rights policies and due diligence efforts from leading Japanese and international companies. At the session,
- Panellist Ms Akane Odake of LIXIL discussed the benefits and challenges of incorporating human rights into corporate processes.
- Panellist Ms Akiko Ueno of UN Global Compact shared historical trends in Japan around business and human rights, activities of leading Japanese companies and some barriers to greater engagement.
- Panellist Mr Saul Takahashi of the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre Japan shared domestic human rights challenges in Japan such as death related to overwork, the need for improvement in the labor environment for women and concern surrounding violations of the human rights of immigrant workers.
- Panellist Mr Hiroshi Sato of IDE-JETRO introduced a recent IDE survey of 3,000 Japanese companies which showed that only 30% of respondents had established a CSR policy. By company size, while 70% of large companies had established CSR policies, only 25% of small and medium companies had done so. However, examining the content of the CSR policies shows that despite over 70% of policies clearly referencing improving and securing the labor environment, less than half incorporate respect for human rights. Mr Sato also spoke of the need to bridge the gap between "universal" human rights and the local interpretation of human rights.
During question and answer period, the panellists received questions from business and civil society participants from Indonesia, Ghana, Myanmar, the UK and Japan. Several interventions touched on the need for greater participation from the Japanese government in events such as the Forum, and the desire to see and hear more from Japanese companies on these issues. All panellist expressed a positive attitude towards greater leadership from the Japanese government in this area.
The concept note for the event is available on the following PDF file.
Following last year's enactment of the UK Modern Slavery Act 2015 there has been a flurry of information addressing its basic components. It is now well known that many Japanese companies doing business in the UK must prepare a "Slavery and Human Trafficking Statement" concerning their own business and their supply chains, and that the first round of statements can be expected within the next five months for companies with a year-end of 31 March 2016. This seminar will go beyond the basics, with EY experts from Japan and the UK providing practical guidance and advanced case studies drawn from the 239 reports already published ahead of the deadline (including 6 from Japanese companies). Simultaneous translation provided.
Details and registration available via the following link: http://www.shinnihon.or.jp/seminar/msa0531 (Japanese)
EY Japan Climate Change and Sustainability Services (CCaSS) assists our clients to respect internationally recognized human rights, wherever they operate. Project members have taken leadership roles internationally in the human rights field, speaking at the UN Forum on Business and Human Rights and supporting the OHCHR. Ashleigh and Keiichi represent Japan on the UN Global Compact (NYC) Human Rights and Labour Working Group and EY Japan has a partnership with the Japan local network. Masa has participated in a number of negotiations on international human rights standards and instruments at the UN as a representative of Japan. Our team members have a breadth of practical experience in areas of human rights, including;
- Human rights policy drafting
- Human rights due diligence
- Human rights e-learning
- Stakeholder engagements
- Human rights-related disclosure and reporting
- Human rights education and awareness raising