Marking the First Business & Human Rights Day in Thailand - ‘Peoples over Profit’
Bangkok - On Thursday, 27 June 2019 Manushya Foundation and the Thai BHR Network successfully organised their first Business and Human Rights Day in Thailand, with the theme of ‘Peoples over Profit’. The day included 3 parts: (1) A press conference on the Thai National Action Plan (NAP) on Business and Human Rights (BHR), (2) A panel discussion to share good practices for LGBTQI in the media sector, and (3) Story-telling on the situation of indigenous women in Thailand.
Part 1 – A press conference on the Thai National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights
The Business and Human Rights Day began with a press conference on the Thai NAP-BHR to highlight the importance of this policy document, to discuss the content of the final draft of the NAP published in February 2019, its implementation, and monitoring as the Royal Thai Government will adopt this final draft NAP-BHR next month in July 2019.
This press conference was organised to call on the government to adopt a joint commentary of Manushya Foundation and the Thai BHR Network, that would ensure (1) a NAP that is inclusive of all communities affected by adverse impact of businesses and the challenges they face, and (2) a NAP that is implemented and monitored with the involvement of all stakeholders in the process, including those who are most affected.
In the final draft NAP, published in February 2019, the Royal Thai Government has failed to include all suggestions and good practices that were provided by the Thai BHR Network during the development of the draft NAP. Therefore, Manushya Foundation and the Thai BHR Network have provided their comments on the final draft NAP through the joint-commentary, submitted on 15 March 2019.
During the press conference on the Thai National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights on 27 June 2019, Ms. Cheraporn Siripalang Thummas of the Rights and Liberties Protection Department (RLPD) of the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), laid out the process of the development of the NAP and provided the latest updates on the plan. Ms. Cheraporn emphasised that the final draft saw a lot of changes from its zero draft, with revisions included based on the suggestions received from business enterprises, civil society organisations, and government agencies.
Providing an insight into taking the NAP from a document to implementation, Ms. Angkhana Neelapajit, Commissioner of the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand (NHRCT), expressed her concerns on the ability of the government to implement the plan. Ms. Neelapajit pointed out that for the successful implementation of the NAP what is required is a tangible document, with the necessary budget and people who are capable of its implementation. Moreover, she noted that what is needed most is the sincerity of the government. Ms. Emilie Pradichit, Founder and Director of Manushya Foundation, pointed out the main shortcomings and challenges of the final draft NAP, which included the lack of mandatory measures to hold companies liable for their human rights abuses, the absence of human rights due diligence, the exclusion of indigenous peoples and sex workers from the NAP. While Ms. Pradichit complimented the Thai government for its engagement with communities during the development of the NAP, she also noted that stakeholder engagement is meaningful only if the contributions received from stakeholders are reflected in the content of the NAP. Discussing the processes in the development and implementation of the NAP, Ms. Sugarnta Sookpaita of the Migrant Workers Foundation emphasised that although there was an effort made throughout the process of development of the NAP to include businesses and affected communities, in reality all the challenges faced by communities and workers at present have not been fully reflected in the NAP. Additionally, Ms. Sookpaita added that while the NAP includes participation, the NAP does not clearly indicate how civil society organisations, their representatives, businesses, employers, employees, and affected communities will be involved and responsible in the implementation and monitoring of the NAP. After hearing the concerns expressed by the panel, Ms. Cheraporn, representative of the RLPD, noted that even though all comments were accepted by the RLPD, the NAP may not cover all issues that have been highlighted.
During the second session of the press conference, the Thai BHR Network members raised their concerns on aspects missing from the NAP, while providing suggestions and solutions on what they hope to see addressed in the NAP, through four panels. Each panel discussed one of the four priority areas of the NAP, including (1) Labour Rights, (2) Community Rights, Land Rights, Natural resources and environment, (3) Human rights defenders, and (4) Cross-border investments and multinational enterprises. The panels were made up of community members of the Thai BHR Network from across the country. They shared challenges they experience on the ground as a result of the negative impact of businesses.
The first panel on labour rights, consisted of individuals and representatives working with affected communities sharing issues on sex workers rights, LGBTQI individuals, persons living with HIV, women, the elderly, disabled persons, drug users, migrant and undocument workers. Primarily, the concerns expressed by them pointed out that the current gaps that exist in the law with respect to the rights of these groups, and the absence of any mandatory measures in the NAP to address these gaps. For instance, Sirisak Chaited, a sex worker and LGBTI activist pointed out that the NAP only mentions the review of the Prevention and Suppression of Prostitution Act, a law that has resulted in the discrimination of sex workers and violation of their rights for more than 20 years.
During the second panel, the Thai BHR Network members pointed out the neglect of the rights of persons with respect to land, the management of natural resources and the environment due to misused laws and the activities of businesses. Ms. Suwalee Phongam pointed out one such case, where fourteen land rights defenders, including 9 women Human rights defenders from Chaiyaphum province are facing jail on charges of destroying the forest in Sai Thong National Park. Being one of the fourteen persons facing charges under the Forest reclamation policy of the military junta, Ms. Phongnam stated that these laws meant to target capitalist investors is hurting communities instead. Although the NAP states the possible review of certain laws, forest laws need to be reviewed with the participation of concerned communities and to distribute power to the grassroots levels, stressed Ms. Phongnam. In response, to the aspects discussed, a representative of the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment (MNRE) responded that the Ministry will extend its support in the cases discussed through a working group it has established that includes government authorities and affected communities in order to reach solutions and provide remedy.
At the third panel on Human Rights Defenders (HRDs), community members of the Thai BHR Network explained the situation faced by HRDs in the country. Ms. Katima Leeja of Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP) and the Indignous Womens Network of Thailand (IWNT) stressed that all HRDs are not represented in the NAP as it leaves out indigenous peoples. As a group of individuals that are most affected by rights violations, if their voices are not heard their future will continue to be filled with rights violation concluded Ms. Leeja. Ms. Agkhana Neelapajit added that it is the responsibility of the government to take care of HRDs. This, Ms. Neelapajit mentioned that they fail to do as HRDs continue to face violations not just with respect to their rights but also due to lack of remedies such as in the form of witness protection, access to the justice fund, and due to poor non-judicial remedies.
With respect to the fourth panel on cross border investments, Ms. Premrudee Daoroung of Project Sevana pointed out that the NAP is still behind the reality on the ground. To illustrate, Ms. Daoroung highlighted that when the rights of Cambodian citizens were violated by a large sugarcane company, they failed to receive remedy from the Thai judicial system. Therefore, without mandatory measures in the NAP resolving these situations caused by cross-border investments would not be possible.
Part 2 – A panel discussion on sharing of good practices for LGBTQI in the media sector
Media has the ability to largely influence the perspective of the public on certain population groups, such as on LGBTQI persons. To address the negative impacts on the LGBTQI community due to the influence of the media, the Thai Transgender Alliance (Thai TGA) and the Office of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunication Commissions (NBTC) decided to take action by developing a good practices guideline for the media to follow on how to address the LGBTQI community to prevent a negative image of the community that would negatively affect individual LGBTQI persons and the community as a whole. At this Business and Human Rights Day event, this project titled ‘LGBTQI in the media: Communication with understanding and equality’ was launched and a panel discussion was held.
During the panel discussion, Ms. Woralak Issarangkul Na Ayuthya, representative of Thai PBS, pointed out that the negative reflections of LGBTQI in the media often comes forward from journalistic bias about gender and from the goal of media channels aim to increase their revenue through attracting audience with interesting headlines and news. She pointed out that to make sure that the media respects individual’s human rights and dignity while writing news stories. While the media is open to learn, they must be shown good practices she insisted. Dr. Tri Bunchua, representative of the NBTC noted that those journalists who unintentionally stigmatise LGBTQI persons can be educated and the guidelines are necessary to change their attitude and behaviour towards the LGBTQI community. For this, he clarified that it is important to make the media respect diversity and respect all people equally, as required by the law in Thailand as well.
Part 3 – Story-telling on the situation of indigenous women in Thailand
Six Indigenous women and members of the Indigenous Women Network in Thailand (IWNT), from different regions in Thailand shared their touching stories on the issues indigenous peoples face as a result of the negative impacts of businesses. Often development projects and business needs do not match the needs of indigenous peoples. The key issues indigenous peoples in Thailand face are (1) the denial of citizenship, (2) discrimination in health care, (3) the denial of land rights, (4) the negative impact of government’s agriculture programs, and (5) the impacts of tourism.
All six women agreed that the main challenge faced by indigenous peoples in Thailand is the lack of citizenship. They pointed out that many indigenous peoples lack citizenship, as they are unable to commute to places for birth registration within 15 days after the birth of a child often due to the weather or money shortage. Additionally, neglect of the mother and child, or the parents lack knowledge and understanding of the importance of citizenship also leads to this failure. Unfortunately, the lack of citizenship also affects all their other human rights, such as the right to land, which makes them more vulnerable to the negative impacts of businesses.
Indigenous women from Phuket expressed the issues their communities experienced as a result of businesses. Providing an example, Ms. Jitti Pramongkit explained that the space that they have been using for generations as a cemetery has been given to investors, in order to use it for tourism. Although they are spiritually connected to the place, as it is the place where their ancestors rest, community members are afraid to go against investors and are instead denied access to their land, highlighted Ms. Pramongkit.
Ms. Noraeri Thungmueangthong noted that the government forced her community in Northern Thailand to change their traditional agriculture practices. This caused issues for the community as they were forced to change to mono-crop cultivation, pointed out Ms. Thungmueangthong. This is despite that fact that do not know how to do mono-crop cultivation and it is also difficult for them to do, as this results in them having to borrow money, be in debt, with the pesticide also negatively affecting their environment and food Ms. Thungmueangthong concluded. The women expressed their belief that to overcome their issues, their inclusion in the National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights is extremely important and should be done immediately.
Ms. Emilie Pradichit closed the Business and Human Rights Day, promising the members of the Thai BHR Network and all other communities present that Manushya Foundation will continue its work until all challenges faced by them are heard by the government, in order for their situation to be resolved. Manushya Foundation and its partners will continue to organise the Business and Human Rights Day in Thailand as a yearly event, where issues of business and human rights are discussed with the inclusion of all stakeholders.
Manushya Foundation would like to thank its partners, the Thai BHR Network, The Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC), the Thai Transgender Alliance (Thai TGA), the Indigenous Women Network of Thailand (IWNT), the Department of Women’s Affairs and Family Development, the National Broadcasting and Telecommunication Commission (NBTC), The Thai Media Fund, and Asia-Pacific Transgender Network (APTN), who co-organised this event with us and for all the contributions made by them to this Business and Human Rights Day, as well as on the business and human rights discourse in Thailand.
Access videos of the Business & Human Rights Day here
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Access the News Release here