This webinar discussed how different stakeholders and actors can work together to prevent, mitigate and remediate adverse impacts of the Covid-19 on business activities and their repercussions on individuals and society.
ISEAS-SPF ASIA IMPACT DIALOGUE WEBINAR SERIES
Enhancing Responsible Business in Southeast Asia
Wednesday, 2 September 2020 – The ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute in partnership with the Sasakawa Peace Foundation held a webinar on “Preparing for the New Reality: Institutional Mechanisms for Addressing Responsible Business Practices in Southeast Asia”. The webinar is part of a six-part ISEAS-SPF Asia Impact Dialogue Webinar Series on “Enhancing Responsible Business in Southeast Asia”.
Moderated by Deputy Secretary General of Human Rights Now, Ms Akiko Sato, the webinar featured the insights of Professor Surya Deva (United Nations Working Group on Business and Human Rights), Professor Dato Aishah Bidin (Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia), Professor Zhang Wanhong (Wuhan University), and Dr Serina Abdul Rahman (ISEAS). The speakers presented their analyses of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on Southeast Asia’s business environment, and discussed the role of institutions and their stakeholders to protect and enhance responsible business practices in the region’s post-Covid-19 future.
The webinar began with Welcoming Remarks on the ISEAS-SPF webinar series by Director of ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute, Mr Choi Shing Kwok, and President of the Sasakawa Peace Foundation, Dr Atsushi Sunami. Mr Choi said that the current pandemic has magnified the existing inequalities in societies and disrupted the region’s development prospects. Mr Choi said that Singapore will need to transform the economy and retrain its workers to thrive in a new post-Covid world. He also highlighted Singapore’s efforts to advance green financing and sustainable development across the region, so that it can facilitate Asia’s growth while also protecting the environment better. In his welcoming remarks, Dr Sunami emphasised the importance of strengthening existing civil society partnership between Japan and Southeast Asia. He said that this partnership is essential in facilitating Japan’s efforts to mitigate the negative impacts of the business sector on human rights, especially among labour workers.
Professor Surya Deva’s presentation highlighted how the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed longstanding systemic gaps in current economic models and its impacts on economic inequalities around the world. Specifically, the rising economic exclusion from an increasingly privatised healthcare system in many countries points to the importance of promoting responsible businesses with strong social causes in a post-Covid-19 world. Professor Deva emphasised the importance of governments and their state-oriented enterprises in leading corporate accountability practices that can set the example for enterprises to engage with responsible business.
Professor Dato Aishah Bidin discussed the role of National Human Rights Institutions in cultivating a more responsible business environment in Malaysia during the pandemic and what can be done in a post-Covid 19 future. Various temporary legislative measures were introduced by the Malaysian government during the pandemic. Professor Dato Aishah Bidin said that these laws must be implemented in accordance to international human rights standards, and the NHRI becomes ever more important in securing access to remedy at a domestic state level during this time. She reiterated the importance of global partnership in improving societal inclusion in the post-Covid-19 world.
Professor Zhang Wanhong assessed the approaches towards responsible business conduct adopted by the Chinese regional governments and the private sector before and during the pandemic. In addition to the adverse economic impacts on manufacturing and healthcare sectors, Professor Zhang said that the pandemic has exposed the lack of corporate social responsibility in China’s business sector. He also reported on the government’s Covid-19 financial relief measures for selected China’s Belt and Road projects in Southeast Asia which is aimed at protecting local livelihoods and to safeguard the environment. Professor Zhang emphasised that good governance practices must be protected during the crisis and to be reinforced in a post-Covid-19 Belt and Road future.
Dr Serina Abdul Rahman examined the impacts of the Covid-19 on the oil palm smallholders in Malaysia and Indonesia, and she assessed the response of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) in reducing inequalities during the pandemic. Dr Serina shared that the pandemic has resulted in worsening economic and social inequalities, and the social responsibilities of corporate oil palm businesses towards smallholders have regressed over the past few months. She suggested that RSPO can leverage on its international networks of oil palm corporations to redistribute revenue. The redistribution can serve as emergency funds for smallholders who are facing a loss of livelihoods and wasted harvests during a time of reduced produce and income.
The webinar concluded with a Question and Answer session which touched on issues surrounding the role of the government, corporations and independent institutions like the NHRI in promoting more responsible practices during this pandemic; whether there are positive examples of such efforts; and the role of certification bodies in supporting smallholders in oil palm industry in Malaysia and Indonesia. This webinar attracted over 100 participants from various backgrounds, including government agencies, the public, universities, and research organizations.
Click here to download the Welcoming Remarks by Mr Choi Shing Kwok.