Institute of Malaysian and International Studies


ASEAN Business & Human Rights (ABHR)


Globalization has brought together with it – the increasing economic interdependence through a rapid expansion of cross-border movement of goods, services, technologies and human capital in the Southeast Asian region.

Such expansion has placed ASEAN as both the world’s sixth-largest market and third-largest labour force, and has been projected to become the fourth-largest economic bloc by 2030. The establishment of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) aims to create a single market and production base – facilitating stronger economic, political, social, and cultural cooperation.

The key challenge in the development of the AEC is how to promote and achieve equitable, inclusive and sustainable growth – while ensuring enjoyment of fundamental freedoms, human rights and social justice for all.

“…the responsibility to respect human rights is a global standard of expected conduct for all business enterprises wherever they operate”.
 Source: UN Guiding Principles on Business & Human Rights, 2011

Corporate-related human rights violation has been argued to be one of the critical negative consequences brought by the expansion of business activities. In particular, the expansion of businesses has created gaps in human rights governance, including amongst others, the lack of regulatory and policy framework, and capacity of societies, including businesses to manage their adverse impacts.

A Game Changer – Business and Human Rights

“… the root cause of the business and human rights predicament today lies in the governance gaps created by globalization – between the scope and impact of economic forces and actors, and the capacity of societies to manage their adverse consequences”.

Source: Ruggie, 2008.

The release of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGP-BHR) in 2011 aims at guiding the States, businesses and communities at large to reduce or compensate for the gaps in governance created by rapid expansion of businesses across the globe. These gaps exist in many forms, including the lack of regulatory and policy framework, and capacity of societies to manage their adverse impacts. This permits permissive environment for wrongful acts by companies even without their intention.

Corporate entities are not duty bound to express publicly of their human rights commitment, to undertake human rights due diligence, and report their progress on a regular basis.

Despite the absence of such regulatory infrastructure, a handful of companies in the region, in different sectors of economy – have shown modest progress in manifesting human rights into their business operations. Some large and public listed companies have produced ambitious human rights commitment and publicly reporting their progress with respect to the promotion of human rights. Nevertheless, very less information available as to how and/or whether such commitment is on par with the expected standards outlined in the UN guiding documents.

Besides, too few of the industry players that have progressed and reached a scale commensurate with the challenges at hand. Oftentimes supply chains comprising small and medium-sized enterprises are left behind and unregulated (on human rights responsibility). In certain occasions some problematic suppliers are being excluded from the network of supply chains due to the failure to comply with their buyers’ human rights commitment. In this case, irresponsible practices may prevail and escalate as they continue their “business as usual” while being excluded from human rights transformation journey.

Our Vision and Aims

To complement the building of an ASEAN community, IKMAS envisions to contribute in addressing governance gaps in business and human rights in the region. We are committed to explore evidence-based and sustainable ways of addressing corporate-related human rights violations.

In doing that, we aim to undertake the following activities:-

  • Collaborate and partner with universities and research institutions in conducting fundamental and empirical researches;
  • Contribute in the development of practical business model to respect human rights;
  • Contribute in the strengthening of business standards and ethics;
  • Develop tools and resources for the State, company and society to manage human rights impacts in business sector;

While undertaking these activities, IKMAS is also committed to:-

  • Organize academic-industry forums and conferences;
  • Engage in dialogue and consultation with relevant government agencies, ASEAN bodies, and other entities associated with ASEAN in developing common approaches and strategies in addressing corporate-related human rights impacts; and
  • Organize capacity building for company, civil society and community to prevent, identify and remedy human rights impacts in business sector.

 “… the role of business enterprises as specialized organs of society performing specialized functions, required to comply with all applicable laws and to respect human rights;
Source: UN Guiding Principles on Business & Human Rights, 2011