Land grabbing, forced evictions, and human rights violations. Thai outbound investments in Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have significantly increased in recent years. While some might argue that investments in mega-projects and infrastructure development, such as coal and dam projects, have contributed to the countries’ economies, environmental and social impacts of the investments are undeniable. Impacted communities use documentation of these violations as evidence for compensation and legal remedies.
“Access to remedy and best practices” was the central theme of the United Nations Business and Human Rights Forum (UNBHR) this year in Geneva. EarthRights International presented in the session titled “Trends and Business Challenges in Asia”, hosted by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The session highlights key opportunities and challenges in translating the UN Guiding Principle on Business and Human Rights into practice. We highlighted that non-judicial channels such as the complaint submission to NHRI should be strengthened in order to facilitate access to remedies.
Thai delegation includes governments, members of the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand (NHRCT), academics, CSOs, and human rights defenders from Leoi and Lampang provinces, such as those who fight against destructive potash mining and coal projects. The Community Resources Center Foundation, led by Founder Sor Rattanamanee Polkla, hosted a CSO-led session on the National Action Plan of Thailand which aims to discuss the remaining gaps of Thailand’s NAP. Human rights defenders from Banhaeng who fight against coal projects highlighted the need to strengthen access to the Justice Fund and said the fund should be allocated to support defenders, such as Jo from Banhaeng village, who was sued by the coal investor just because she led the communities to protect their homes and natural resources.
We presented key issues of Thai outbound investments in Cambodia and Myanmar. The takeaway included a strong need for Thailand to establish a mechanism and regulation to extraterritorial obligations of Thai investors abroad. The communities that experienced abuses from Thai investments in ASEAN countries have submitted complaints to the NHRCT to seek remedies and compensation over the past few years—Dawei Special Economic Zone and Banchaung coal mining in Myanmar, and Kohkong and Oddarmanchey sugar plantations in Cambodia.
ETO Watch Coalition plays a crucial role in facilitating the NHRCT field visits and lobbying key stakeholders to participate and prepare key documentation for any remediation discussion. The documentation of human rights abuses and testimonies are collected and presented to the investors during mediation meetings and helps set the terms and conditions for future negotiations.
ETO Watch Coalition is a consortium of NGOs and grassroots organizations working in Thailand to advocate for extraterritorial obligations and human rights compliances in Thai outbound investments. ERI is a key member of the coalition and our role is to facilitate communities’ access to remedies from the abuses they face caused by Thai outbound investments.
Through public consultations and meetings with directly-affected communities, NHRCT documented stories and testimonies of the abuses, such as land grabbing, forced eviction, and human rights abuses. The recommendations have informed the policy on the extraterritorial obligation of Thai investors in ASEAN—the cabinet resolution on extraterritorial obligation of Thai investment abroad released in 2015 and 2016 (based on Dawei SEZ, Oddarmanchey sugar case and Hongsa coal mine and transmission lines).
“The role of NHRCT in pursuing cross-border investigation of alleged human rights abuses is crucial in facilitating access to remedies,” said Tuenjai Deetes, NHRCT Commissioner at the UNBHR Forum, Geneva. “Through supports from concerned stakeholders, a systematic documentation of human rights abuses occurred and communities are consulted towards types of remedies they anticipated.”
Thailand has made a strong commitment to address human rights violations in businesses through the development of the National Action Plan of Thailand on Business and Human Rights (NAP). CSOs and NHRCT have worked closely to ensure that NAP has been inclusive of CSO’s voices—those impacted by Thai outbound investments. Members of the Working Group on Business and Human Rights visited Thailand in March and April this year to consult with several stakeholders, such as government, CSOs, businesses, and academics to document concerns from communities on human rights abuses. The ETO Watch Coalition submitted complaints from impacted communities from at least eight cases of Thai outbound investments. The recommendation made by the Working Group emphasized the need to establish a mechanism to regulate and monitor the business practices of Thai investors abroad. The Working Group highlighted the need for NAP to respond to their recommendations.
The NAP process is only the beginning. The current draft included Thai outbound investments as one of the priorities of cross-border investments and multinational enterprises. A set of recommendations from CSOs have been made regarding improved access to human rights assessment reports, consultations with the impacted communities and to establish grievance mechanisms and remedies with continued support to the communities as needed.
“NAP includes Thai outbound investment in ASEAN at the moment in the fourth priority of Cross-border Investments and Multinational Enterprises. The inclusion is based on CSO’s recommendations throughout the consultation process which realized the impacts of Thai investment abroad. But we have to also take note that there would be a big challenge for us to demand for any mechanism or mandate from the Businesses to follow NAP. As we know that there is a gap in Thai’s law and regulation to demand for improved human rights compliance from Thai outbound investors”- Mr. Som Promros, Secretary General of Rights and Liberties Protection Department, expressed at CSO-led NAP discussion at UNBHR Forum 2018 Geneva.
The NAP is being drafted, revised, and consulted with several government agencies and businesses. The NAP implementation needs to be observed and documented to ensure compliance of environmental and social standards. Also, it needs to ensure human rights best practices, such as human rights assessment reports of the project are released to public domain, the establishment of grievances mechanisms to raise concerns, and to provide compensation and remedies to the impacted communities. The mechanism to monitor the NAP implementation shall also be established to ensure that the NAP is not business-as-usual and lip-service or NAP-No-Teeth labeled.