Photo: Yamon Phu Thit/UNDP Myanmar

Myanmar National Human Rights Commission and UNDP introduce UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights as a roadmap for sustainable development and responsible investment

Government officials, private sector leaders and experts, and development partners gathered last week in Naypyidaw to analyse how the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights can lead to a more inclusive and vibrant economy for all people in Myanmar. The Seminar on Business and Human Rights was organized by the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission (MNHCR) and the UN Development Programme (UNDP), with the support of the governments of Australia and the United Kingdom.

The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, unanimously adopted in 2011 by the Human Rights Council, provide a normative standard of what is expected by states and businesses to prevent and address adverse effects on human rights arising from business activity. 

Photo: Yamon Phu Thit/UNDP Myanmar

“The UN Guiding principles forms the basis for business and human rights” affirmed H.E. U Win Mra, Chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission in his introductory remarks. “Business should respect human rights and the State’s vital role is laying down policies, rules, regulations to take action and guarantee protection for violation human rights by business enterprises”. He in particular referred to the need to hand over confiscated land to the original farmers, mentioning some recent initiatives by the Government, and the importance to protect women’s rights in line with the Guiding Principles.

“Today we are here to introduce the UN Guiding Principles to policy makers at all levels of the Government to hopefully begin a dialogue about bringing the UNGPs to life in Myanmar”, said Peter Batchelor, UNDP’s Country Director. He highlighted that these principles are “fundamental to Myanmar’s Sustainable Development Plan and it is worth noting that the issue of business and human rights has been addressed in the drafting of the Plan”.

Human rights and sustainable development

Photo: Yamon Phu Thit/UNDP Myanmar

Peter Batchelor further noted that “the private sector plays an important role in the broader human rights sustainable development agenda, not only in Myanmar but in all countries. As Myanmar continues its transition to a market-based economy that is growing more connected regionally and globally, protection and respect for human rights should be the foundation on which to build an inclusive and vibrant economy that serves the interests of all people in Myanmar”. It is clear that “Development and human rights go hand in hand, the one cannot happen without the other. Development without human rights cannot be sustainable”, he said.

A shared responsibility: protect, respect and remedy

The UN Guiding Principles are anchored in three pillars: protect, respect and remedy. “Protect” concerns the state’s duty to protect against rights abuses, by providing a regulatory and legal framework for responsible and ethical investment and investigating instances of rights abuses. “Respect” reflect the responsibility of businesses to avoid infringing on the rights of others and to address any negative impacts caused by their enterprises. Finally, “remedy” should be provided for victims of business-related abuses through judicial, legislative and administrative measures.

The meeting aimed to introduce senior officials to their responsibility in protecting human rights and promoting the private sector to respect human rights, as responsible investment can bring about inclusive economic growth that reinforces the rights of all people in Myanmar.

Indeed, the Myanmar Investment Law (2016) aims “to develop responsible investment in the interest of the Union and its citizens which does not harm the natural or social environment” and the country Investment Policy (2016) states that “local and foreign investors shall comply with the principles for responsible investment and business conduct, including environmental and natural resources matters on an equal basis and in a non-discriminatory manner at all times”.

Human rights, business and sustainable development: SDGs in action

Photo: Yamon Phu Thit/UNDP Myanmar

The protection of human rights are embedded throughout the Sustainable Development Goals and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. As Myanmar’s Government prepares the national plan for sustainable development, participants noted the many opportunities to incorporate incentives for businesses to contribute to the economy through responsible investment. “Respect of human rights is often seen as simply a matter of compliance and risk management”, explained Batchelor. The UNGPs are designed to ensure that respect for human rights is an integral part of doing business, “not something you do and then move on” and “respect for human rights in business is not just a matter of compliance to be achieved through audits and spot-checks, but requires capacity building, innovation, collaboration and leadership.”

H.E. U Win Mra, expressed his satisfaction with the seminar and that it is a first step to deepen the discussion with senior government representatives from several ministries about what the ‘duty to protect’ means in the context of their mandates, including through integrating human rights considerations into all existing and new regulations. The seminar concluded with the agreement on a Statement on Steps Forward on UNGPs in Myanmar.

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