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Tackling the impacts of agribusiness on human rights

Graphic: Deforestation

Building greater respect for human rights among government, agribusiness and forestry groups was the focus of a recent conference.


Building greater respect for human rights among government agencies and agribusiness and forestry groups was the key focus of a three-day conference involving national human rights institutions (NHRIs) and civil society groups from across South East Asia.

Held in Yangon, Myanmar from 4-6 November 2014, the conference brought together 65 participants from the South East Asian National Human Rights Institutions Forum (SEANF) and from civil society organisations in Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines and Thailand.

Participating NHRIs said that they had received a huge number of complaints in recent years, with a great many related to land grabs, land conflicts and violation of the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities.

Civil society groups also noted that government policies to generate foreign investment, agro-fuels and commodity exports were imposing heavy costs on communities, in terms of forced eviction, loss of livelihoods, lack of local and national food security, environmental degradation and erosion of biodiversity.

Given the scale and systemic nature of these problems, NHRIs had conducted national inquiries into indigenous peoples' rights to land (completed in Malaysia and currently underway in Indonesia), highlighting the need for legal reforms to secure the rights of these communities.

NHRIs also described their efforts to engage with companies and governments to raise awareness about human rights and of the need for companies to change their policies to better respect the rights of individuals and communities, especially rights to land.

The National Human Rights Commission of Thailand highlighted its efforts to investigate human rights abuses associated with trans-boundary development projects where the Thai Government or Thai private sector enterprises were involved, including cases in Lao PDR, Cambodia and Myanmar.

In Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines efforts are being made to develop national action plans to implement the UN's Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. In the Philippines, amendments to the Corporation Code are being considered which would require companies to respect human rights.

The meeting heard that there are significant opportunities for NHRIs to collaborate with each other and with civil society groups to investigate human rights abuses, expose violations and promote remedies.

Supporting NHRIs to address issues related to business and human rights will also be a key focus of the APF's 2015-2020 Strategic Plan.

The full copy of the Yangon Statement on Human Rights and Agribusiness in South East Asia is available on the website of the Forest Peoples Programme (FPP).

The meeting was convened by the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission, with the support of the FPP, RECOFTC-The Center for People and Forests, and the Rights and Resources Initiative.

Date: 13 November 2014


Image credits

  1. Deforestation - David Gilbert/RAN, Flickr Creative Commons