19.09.2017

Trade unions welcome ASEAN guidelines on CSR, call for strong enforcement mechanism

Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) – Trade unions gathered on 4-5 September 2017 to promote the ASEAN Guidelines for Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) on Labour adopted on 15 May 2016 and build on this milestone for workers’ rights in the region.

The ASEAN Services Employees Trade Union Council (ASETUC), a network of trade union federations in the ASEAN region, organized the ASETUC Regional Workshop to promote ASEAN Guidelines for CSR on Labour. Some 30 trade unionists met to discuss how to create more awareness about the guidelines among the trade unions active in the region, and how to promote their implementation among employers. 

The participants in the workshop regretted the non-binding nature of the guidelines and the weak incentive for implementation. They also deplored the non-assignment of responsibilities for the actors and the weaknesses of the text on some issues such as wages and social security.

Veronica Nilsson (FES) at ASETUC Regional Workshop, Promoting ASEAN Guidelines for Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) on Labour, Kuala Lumpur, 4-5 September 2017 by © ASETUC

“The ASEAN Guidelines constitute an important policy document as they emphasize the governments’ commitment to fundamental rights at work—rights which are not always respected in the region,” said Veronica Nilsson from the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Asia Regional Office. "Unfortunately, the guidelines do not provide a strong mechanism for implementation."  

Despite this, ASETUC welcomes this initiative by the ASEAN, underlying its importance for the respect of workers’ fundamental rights. Its reliance on international standards and the fact that the guidelines enhance the crucial role of the private sector in social and environmental matters are also recognized.

ASEAN, composed of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam, elaborated these guidelines in response to “growing awareness […] of the importance of achieving sustainable development” as underlined in the body of the guidelines (link in English). 

Thomas Thomas, chief executive of the ASEAN CSR Network, also pointed out the necessity to “incorporate [the] quest for economic expansion with principles of corporate social responsibility – responding not just to the need for more profits but also ensuring that all the people of ASEAN benefit, by taking into account the well-being of people and the environment”.

Despite their limitations, the guidelines remain a useful tool for trade unions to improve working conditions in the region. Members of the ASETUC aim to work with governments and together develop national action plans to implement the guidelines and harmonize the labour laws of the Member States.

In that respect, the guidelines promote equitable, inclusive and sustainable economic growth through a people-centred approach. Moreover, they demonstrate a clear collective positioning of governments regarding labour issues in a region where efforts still need to be done to secure workers’ rights and freedom of association. The guidelines are intended to benefit all the stakeholders related to labour: not only the private sector but also governments, employers’ organisations, and trade unions from the ASEAN Economic Community.

Participants draw up priorities at ASETUC Regional Workshop, Promoting ASEAN Guidelines for Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) on Labour, Kuala Lumpur, 4-5 September 2017 © ASETUC

They provide guidance on seven priorities inspired by international and regional instruments of the International Labour Organization, the United Nations and ASEAN. These priorities target: forced labour and child labour; employment and employment relationship; human resources development and training; conditions of work and life; industrial relations; migrant workers; and sustainable development.

With these guidelines, ASEAN aspires to “raise awareness of CSR on Labour among enterprises” (ASEAN guidelines for CRS in Labour, II.6.1) and to encourage the adoption of CSR initiatives in the region. It is also a way to promote compliance to the already existing regional and international standards. Finally, it should facilitate “social dialogue governments, employers’ organisations and workers’ organisations at all levels, and strengthen industrial relations” (ASEAN guidelines for CRS in Labour, II.6.4).

Despite their limitations, the guidelines remain a useful tool for trade unions to improve working conditions in the region. Members of the ASETUC aim to work with governments and together develop national action plans to implement the guidelines and harmonize the labour laws of the Member States. They also want to institutionalize tripartite bodies which could discuss practical measures to encourage the implementation of the guidelines at the workplace. ###

Romane Cauqui is intern at the Singapore-based FES Office for Regional Coordination in Asia. For more information about the regional work by FES on trade, labour and social dialogue contact Veronica Nilsson, Programme Manager at the FES Office for Regional Cooperation in Asia.


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