Communities let down by Thailand’s NAP-BHR fight back: It’s time to #StopNAPping!
No More Greenwashing!
No More Whitewashing!
Dear Manushyan, Dear Friends,
While COP27 kicked off a few days ago and ahead of the 11th UN Business & Human Rights Forum (28-30 November), we decided it was about time to tell the story of our fight for climate justice & corporate accountability in Thailand. The country's first National Action Plan on Business & Human Rights (NAP-BHR) is the perfect example of how an ineffective voluntary greenwashing policy and a military-backed government have been praised and championed through whitewashing at UN global forums. As Audre Lorde told us all, The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House. So what are we doing to dismantle it with our own power?
By telling our story, we hope to inspire our friends and to invite those applying the Master's tools to reflect, and to join our efforts in ensuring the fight for corporate accountability, climate justice, and a just transition, is feminist, green, intersectional, inclusive, and most importantly, led by local communities. Keep on reading as we tell you all about it! This is an invitation to all of us to do better.
Finally Telling Our Story
Until then quiet UN conference room started buzzing with sudden movement. All except the official streaming that shortly switched off its coverage of the event, eyes and many recording devices focused on the group of community members and activists with handwritten banners and signs, standing up in defense of their rights during the Asia-Pacific Responsible Business and Human Rights Forum 2022 (RBHRF). They were denouncing the first National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights (NAP-BHR) of Thailand, a napping document, punching below its weight and unwilling to tackle instances of corporate abuse and bring about corporate accountability. What’s left is a legal vacuum that needs to be filled.
“Stop NAPping,” repeated Manushya Foundation’s Founder and Executive Director Emilie Palamy Pradichit, in a frank and powerful intervention delivered during this peaceful protest.
“We did all the work. We did all the capacity building, as civil society, to train communities, indigenous peoples, environmental defenders, and land rights defenders, for them to know about the UNGPs [United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights]. For the past five years, we’ve been training them and they knew all of it. Indigenous peoples and environmental defenders engaged in a lot of meetings with the government to share their concerns and solutions. At the end of the day, through meaningful engagement, we have been used in the process.”
Of course, the process being the drafting of Thailand’s First National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights (NAP-BHR), the first such plan to be created in the Asia-Pacific region and a flagship project of the Thai government to become the Business and Human Rights “champion” of Asia. But for grassroots communities, human rights defenders, activists, and civil society groups, Thailand’s NAP-BHR was a missed opportunity to truly listen, amplify their voices and integrate them into this long-term strategy document. The NAP-BHR 1, running from 29 October 2019 to 29 October 2022, did not become a ‘smart mix’ of voluntary and mandatory measures needed to ensure responsible business conducts and respect for human rights. Instead, it only resulted in an ineffective and greenwashing voluntary tool, more precisely, a work plan for meetings, while courageous human rights defenders are increasingly facing SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) suits for speaking up against corporate impunity.
It’s time to tell our story: Community-led process hijacked by the government’s napping NAP!
Following Manushya Foundation’s BHR strategy, the civil society’s initial engagement with Thailand’s NAP-BHR was constructive and wide-scale. Spearheaded by Manushya Foundation, the Thai BHR Network, an intersectional coalition comprising environmental defenders, indigenous peoples and other forest-dwelling communities, LGBTIQ+ activists, sex workers, minorities such as Isaan people and Malayu Muslims from Thailand’s Deep South, women and labor rights activists, and many others, discussed issues most pertinent to Business and Human Rights in Thailand over four regional capacity-building workshops in Chiang Mai, Hat Yai, Khon Kaen and Rayong in 2017. The workshops were followed by four civil society organizations (CSOs) National Baseline Assessment Dialogues and two expert meetings in 2017 and 2018.
From a Sweet Start to a Bitter End: Findings consolidated in thematic chapters of the independent CSOs National Baseline Assessment on Business and Human Rights issued by Manushya Foundation, shifted the direction of the NAP-BHR drafting process. The four priority areas identified during the CSO-led consultations (labor rights; community rights, indigenous peoples, land-related rights, natural resources and the environment; protection of human rights defenders; trade agreements and Thai outbound investments) were replicated by the Thai government in its NAP-BHR; yet, without the substance provided by rich inputs of grassroots voices during the numerous workshops, meetings and through the extensive NAP comments by Manushya & the Thai BHR Network. What started as a ‘sweet’ collaboration for meaningful stakeholder engagement ended in a bittersweet weak NAP-BHR.
Marked by a painful lack of legally binding measures and steps to protect the rights of affected communities such as indigenous peoples and sex workers, Thailand’s NAP-BHR failed to achieve any real change on the ground and had zero impact on the lives of communities negatively impacted by business enterprises; meanwhile, the Thai government is being promoted by UNDP Business and Human Rights Asia Team as the ‘BHR Champion’ in Asia, traveling to BHR Forums and UN conferences to ‘inspire the world’ and share a heavily-funded false narrative.
Check our Photo-Blog: What’s a NAP-BHR and why we don’t want it!
BUT - Ever since the launch of the first NAP-BHR, Manushya Foundation has been carefully monitoring the cases of corporate abuses across the country and worked on its own CSO-led assessment of the implementation of the NAP-BHR. The cases, despite the highly-praised NAP-BHR, only multiplied: from the case of the Chana community pushing back against a large-scale industrial project, to the case of Phichit villagers fighting for justice in the face of the devastating impacts of gold mining in their neighborhood. Community members have been criminalized, harassed, and faced SLAPP cases by both, the companies and the government, for speaking Truth to Power. In other cases, the Government has criminalized impoverished forest dwellers for alleged forest encroachment instead of tackling environmental destruction caused by business enterprises.
Friends, it shall be clear by now: Thailand’s NAP-BHR failed.
It was in this context that Manushya Foundation took on to counter the false narratives, enthusiastically spread by the Thai Government and the UNDP BHR Asia team throughout the past four years, during the Asia Pacific Responsible Business and Human Rights Forum (RBHRF) in Bangkok last month.
Joined by prominent activists from Phichit, Sab Wai, Thepa and Chana communities, representatives of the LGBTIQ+ community and the Young Pride Club, the Women Workers for Justice Group, and Manushya Foundation’s core team, and supported by partners from ESCR-Net and the Asia Task Force for the Legally Binding Treaty, the powerful intersectional delegation shaped the form of the RBHRF 2022. Here is what happened.
CSO Safe Space - interactive dialogue for all: it’s time for #AsiaWakeUp
Starting a day early before the official kick-off of the forum on 20 September, more than one hundred civil society representatives including grassroots community members joined to engage in the “CSO Safe Space” dialogue with Dr. Pichamon Yeophantong, the new member of the United Nations Working Group (UNWG) on Business and Human Rights, Mr. Tomoyo Obokata, UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery and two former members of the UNWG, Professor Surya Deva and Professor Anita Ramasastry. It was the very first time the Asia RBHR Forum was so well-attended by CSOs and communities. But why did we come in numbers, self-funded?
Members of the Asia Task Force, indigenous peoples representatives, community members and many CSOs did certainly not join to promote any partnership with UNDP BHR Asia Team. It is important to note that while a broad civil society engagement with the Forum was celebrated by its organizers, individual organizations and their missions self-funded its attendance to reclaim their stories, not endorse the UNDP BHR Asia team's strategy focused on weak NAPs and voluntary human rights due diligence guidelines.
On the contrary, we came in numbers to serve the interests of grassroots communities, people hurt by businesses on the ground, and to call for effective implementation of the UNGPs through mandatory measures. The ‘CSO Safe Space’, co-moderated by Manushya Foundation’s Founder and Executive Director Emilie Palamy Pradichit and Community Resource Centre’s Co-founder Sor Rattanamanee Polkla, was an opportunity to share grievances with the UN independent experts and provide first-hand testimonies of the fight on the frontlines. Emilie Pradichit and community members highlighted the ineffectiveness of Thailand’s NAP-BHR and the need to move to legally binding measures to protect the rights of communities.
“People don’t want NAPs anymore. National Action Plans on Business & Human Rights are not enough. We understand you [the UNWG on Business & Human Rights] want to implement the UNGPs. For us, the best way to implement the UNGPs is to move to mandatory human rights due diligence and the Binding Treaty.”
－ Emilie Pradichit, Founder and Executive Director of Manushya Foundation
“The NAP is napping, and businesses are not forced to abide by it, because it is voluntary, not mandatory. Businesses have been rainbow-washing in the name of diversity and inclusion. I would like to take this opportunity to denounce NAP – it protects nothing. We want mandatory human rights due diligence. I don’t want to see any more human rights lawyers who protect women and LGBTQ+ people to face SLAPP cases. Laws that specifically protect women and gender-diverse people need to be prioritized.”
－ Nada Chaiyajit, LGBTIQ+ activist and Human Rights Campaign Advisor of Manushya Foundation
“The impact of gold mining by an Australian company is long-standing. Chemicals that leak from the mine, such as cyanide, are negatively affecting the environment. It contaminates our food and harms our health. The houses of community members who live in the area have also experienced cracks. Some of the villagers who have come out to defend their rights face harassment and threats, and lawsuits have been brougt against us in an attempt to silence our voices.”
－ Premsinee Sintontammatuch, Community Leader
Living at the forefront: we are the ones who must be heard. Not ‘experts’ speaking about us, in front of us!
While the Business and Human Rights fora organized by the UN are presented as inclusive spaces where academics, UN experts, civil society and companies can meet in an equal dialogue, there is a major difference between these diverse groups. Unlike corporate figures, representing their enterprises striving for profit, community members and activists fight for their rights. Their right to stay healthy in the face of toxic industrial pollution. Their right to make a livelihood on their ancestral lands. Their right to truth and justice when their families and communities are criminalized, imprisoned or murdered. Or their right to speak Truth to power, free of corporate attacks to silence them.
In this light, it is a wonder that experts featured in the official panels spoke about the struggles of grassroots communities, women environmental human rights defenders, who were, in fact, present in the room. Instead, community members were tokenized and allowed to speak their truth with their own voices only from the floor during the Q&A sessions. We are left wondering: is this really an inclusive dialogue that would bridge to the Global Business and Human Rights Forum in Geneva?
The result? Manushya Foundation and community members of the Thai BHR Network took to the “streets” - one of the official conference rooms in the UN Conference Center in Bangkok - and staged a banner protest during the official session of the Forum “Translating the UNGPs into Real Change”. The message was clear. No more SLAPPs, no more rainbow washing, and disregard for groups such as indigenous peoples or sex workers. What Thailand needs are strong mandatory measures governing the conduct of business enterprises: the mandatory human rights due diligence legislation on the national level, and the legally binding treaty on Business and Human Rights on the international level.
The protest, not covered in the official recording of the event, was held during the powerful intervention of Emilie Pradichit, who held into account the Thai government but also UNDP BHR Asia team, and told the true story of Thailand’s NAP-BHR. Here is her full intervention:
“UNDP has been supporting the Thai Government, championing it as the best country in Asia, producing videos and shaping a false narrative. The UNGPs are not working through NAPs, it did not work in Thailand. At the end of the day, we had a very weak NAP! Only voluntary measures.
In the past eight years, 450 women human rights defenders have been SLAPPed, facing judicial harassment in Thailand! The NAP is not bringing any change because it has zero anti-SLAPP measures in it, zero mandatory measures in it to protect us against corporations. The situation of human defenders has worsened.
The only way we can implement the UNGPs effectively is through mandatory human rights due diligence and the responsibility of companies to be held accountable, to provide a fair and effective remedy and compensation to communities. Enough is enough!
We also want Asian states to engage in the Legally Binding Treaty on Business and Human Rights. The NAPs alone are not enough. It's time to stop NAPping. We want People and Planet over profit. Thank you.”
－ Emilie Pradichit, Founder and Executive Director of Manushya Foundation
Replying to the Thai government’s representative who stated that Thailand’s NAP-BHR is a good first step that did bring some change, Nada Chaiyajit, Manushya’s Human Rights Campaign Advisor, fiercely reminded that a good first step does not result in more SLAPP cases!
Watch the full interventions of Emilie Pradichit, Nada Chaiyajit during the protest and interventions of Manushya Foundation’s delegation: 'Pim' Tanruthai Thanrut, #SaveBangkloi and Youth Pro-democracy Activist, 'Best' Chitsanupong Nithiwana, Founder and Executive Director of the Young Pride Club, Katima Leeja, Indigenous Woman Human Rights Defender and Manushya Foundation’s board members: Nittaya Muangklang, a Community Leader for #SaveSabWaiVillagers and Sugarnta Sookpaita, Director of the Women Workers for Justice Group.
Check our Photo-Blog: #AsiaWakeUp
#RBHRF2022 is over and our demand is clear: It’s time for Thailand to #StopNAP-ping!
NAP = SLAPP?
Manushya Foundation also organized a closed-door session with the UNWG member Dr. Pichamon Yeophantong to amplify stories of two women human rights defenders (WHRDs) in particular: Premsinee Sintontammatuch, the community leader from Phichit and Nada Chaiyajit, a prominent LGBTIQ+ activist and Human Rights Campaign Advisor of Manushya Foundation.
Nada Chaiyajit faces a SLAPP case filed after she denounced the sexual harassment of a transgender woman at a workplace on her social media. She was then sued by the perpetrator, a well-known businessman and politician from the Move Forward Party (MFP) for defamation and multiple distinct offenses. The made-up allegation seriously breaches Nada's digital rights and her right to freedom of expression. Read the full complaint filed by Nada Chaiyajit and Manushya Foundation here.
Premsinee Sintontammatuch has been sued by a gold mining company that had destroyed the health and livelihoods of her community in Phichit and Phetchabun provinces and that tried to silence opponents of gold mining for the last 13 years. Premsinee has been sued for allegedly providing false testimony before a court (under Section 177 of the Criminal Code). The SLAPP charge came after she unfairly lost a court case where she demanded compensation for the damage to her house caused by mining operations.
Building on its expertise of engagement with the UN Human Rights Mechanisms, Manushya Foundation supported both WHRDs to submit complaints to Dr. Pichamon, to seek justice and ensure independent UN human rights experts issue a strong communication to the Thai government calling for the protection and fulfillment of the two WHRDs’ human rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.
Corporate Impunity and the False Just Transition in Thailand: same communities and environmental defenders hurt!
Despite its praise on the international stage, the human rights situation in Thailand is critical. Worse still, the climate emergency we all live in is already impacting the very same communities affected by corporate impunity. On top of existing human rights violations caused by development aggression, these communities now bear the brunt of the negative impacts of climate change itself but also of ‘renewable’ projects: false climate solutions promoted by Southeast Asian governments that follow the same logic of profit-making, this time under the disguise of climate change mitigation.
Remember the Nabon community, pushing back against the biomass-burning plant that could seriously endanger their lives and livelihoods or the Lao communities whose lives were taken and destroyed by the collapse of the Xe-Pian Xe-Namnoy dam, funded by the Thai government. Do you also remember Nittaya Muangklang, WHRD and community leader of the Sab Wai villagers, criminalized under Thailand’s false climate solution and facing forced eviction?
Nittaya and Katima Leeja, an indigenous Lisu woman human rights defender, spoke on behalf of their communities during the Forum session “Environmental Defenders as Levers of Change: Supporting climate action and responsible business practices” and touched on the Thai government’s false climate solutions, supported or endorsed by international organizations such as the World Bank and UNESCO. Read their interventions below:
It will be crucial not to follow the business-as-usual path and ensure that the transition to green, no-carbon future is intersectional, feminist and just, centering human rights of communities and historically marginalized groups.
Check our Photo-Blog on the need for an Intersectional, Feminist, Just and Green Transition
NAPs and voluntary human rights due diligence in Asia: Problems and Solutions
Throughout the Forum, the message on the ineffectiveness of NAP-BHRs and voluntary human rights due diligence guidelines sounded loud and clear. At the side event organized by Manushya Foundation and its partners from ESCR-Net, ATF, BHRRC, Altsean-Burma, Indian Social Action Forum (INSAF), Korean Transnational Corporations Watch (KTNC Watch) and Human Rights Now “National Actions Plans: Stocktaking and Charting the Way Forward,” solutions and best practices to bring real corporate accountability were shared.
The session moderated by Debbie Stothard (Altsean-Burma) featured prominent voices of the Asia-Pacific region such as Emilie Pradichit (Manushya Foundation), Vidya Dinker (INSAF), Shin Young Chung (KTNC Watch), Ryutaro Ogawa (Human Rights Now) and Hsin-Hsuan Sun (Environmental Rights Foundation). During the rich discussion, the panelists examined the NAP processes in India, Japan, and Thailand, and voluntary human rights due diligence guidelines developed in Japan, Korea, and Taiwan, and looked into their alternatives, in particular, the mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence.
To avoid a tokenistic approach abused in various frameworks, including the NAP-BHR, Emilie Pradichit highlighted that such legislation needs to include key components such as effective access to remedy, civil and criminal responsibility of companies, protection of human rights defenders and whistleblowers and primarily, a meaningful consultation process with affected communities, especially when marginalized communities such as indigenous peoples need to provide their free, prior and informed consent.
“We need a meaningful consultation of affected communities - not just a tick-the-box exercise or a stakeholder engagement exercise - but meaningful participation. Not everybody understands meaningful participation. That’s why, when it comes to mandatory human rights due diligence and the implementation of such legislation, it shall be also undertaken by civil society and affected communities and led by them, not by an independent consulting firm that is going to serve the company and that would most likely use the list of participants as a way of community manipulation to show the community ‘consent’.”
－ Emilie Pradichit, Founder and Executive Director of Manushya Foundation
The international panel has also emphasized the role of regional cooperation among civil society, summed up by the session moderator Debbie Stothard:
“We are all working together in both, the regional and international spaces, whether we are campaigning for the legally binding instrument in Geneva or whether we are working together here, regionally. There has been a huge amount of solidarity over the last two days and I feel very optimistic about this.”
－ Debbie Stothard, Founder and Coordinator of ALTSEAN-Burma
Watch the recording of the side event below:
Manushya’s next steps in Thailand
Next month, Manushya Foundation will issue its independent assessment of the implementation of Thailand’s first NAP-BHR. The report based on first-hand testimonies from grassroots communities, continuous monitoring of cases of corporate abuse, and in-depth research, will unveil the Truth behind the government’s pretense and show the real state of things. But now already, it is clear that NAP-BHR failed and its second edition is doomed to fail by repeating the same mistakes. Stay tuned as we will also be launching our comments to Thailand’s NAP-BHR 2 soon!
To move forward, the government needs to start taking real action. Implement the mandatory human rights due diligence legislation, constructively engage in the drafting process of the legally binding treaty on business and human rights, and enact stand-alone legislation protecting human rights defenders against SLAPP charges. We have had enough. It is time to #StopNAPping!
Manushya’s next steps at the upcoming UN Business & Human Rights Forum
Clearly, the disappointment regarding weak NAP-BHRs and voluntary measures are echoed by our friends all around the world. For this very reason, Manushya Foundation will join friends from East Asia, Latin America and Europe sharing similar experiences, at the upcoming 11th UN BHR Forum in Geneva. Stay tuned; more to come!
While you’re here…
➡️ Find out more about our #CorporateAccountability work and impact on Thailand's NAP-BHR!
(VIDEO) Watch our powerful interventions denouncing NAP-BHR at #RBHRForum2022
(VIDEO) Watch our side event at #RBHRForum2022 “National Action Plans: Stocktaking and Charting the Way Forward”, 21 September 2022
Read about the intervention of Manushya Foundation’s Founder and Executive Director, Emilie Pradichit during the RBHRF 2022: #StopSLAPP: "The NAP is not brin