Interview with Akawat Laowonsiri, Lecturer at the Faculty of Law, Thammasat University, Member of the National Committee on the Rule of Law of the Ministry of Justice of Thailand and Director of the International Law Association of Thailand
Q: Ajarn Akawat, thank you very much for being with us today at CPG.
A: Thank you very much for inviting me!
Q: Today, we would like to ask you some questions about Business and Human Rights, one of your areas of expertise. To start us off, could you give us some background on the issue?
A: BHR (Business and Human Rights) can be seen is an international instrument, drafted by a group of experts assigned by the United Nations. This instrument is something unique and peculiar. In the past we did not have an instrument that merged the two areas together and Human Rights and Business were previously thought of as separate. However, in practical settings and in a practical context, it was shown that interactions between these two set of rules and norms are required. In short, when you do business, you are confronted with a lot of Human Rights issues, either within your own organizations or outside of it. For example, you have to interact with your board-members, with your employees as well as your costumers outside the organization. And whether you service them sufficiently, or treat them appropriately, can quickly become a Human Rights issue.
Q: You treat people well and your business will benefit, right?
Q: But isn’t this somehow separate from Human Right issues? If you do it merely for the business?
A: When we talk about business, we can’t avoid talking about benefits, something that can be calculated in money. But sometimes it is hard to do just that. Here in Thailand, we have implemented BHR type strategies for about 10 years. These are standards and soft law, rather than actual legal measures, that have been established by the Ministry of Industry. They regulate the behaviour of factories with regards to environmental standards and how people are treated that are affected by the factories work. What we have learned from this over the past ten years is that after the companies and factories were in compliance with these standards, good things came out of that. These good outcomes included more acceptance by people of the factories, less demonstrations or even litigations against them. Rather than fighting the companies, people started to respect them and were willing to work and engage with them. This also included employees staying longer in their jobs. You create a sense of loyalty. You, as a company, do good for your employees, and they will do good for you.
Q: So it pays for the company to invest in BHR?
A: Yes of course. It is something you can’t see in the short term. But in 5 years or 10 years you can see the difference. Not only in Thailand, but in other countries as well. And on the other hand, if you don’t treat your employees nicely, it may sooner or later come back to cause you real problems. Take United Airlines in the US. I think you have seen the case where a passenger had to be removed from a plane as the plane was overloaded. They ended up forcefully removing an Asian guy and afterwards, and United Airlines received very bad reactions. Not only from Asian people. People preferred not to book United Airlines for a while because of this forceful intervention.
Q: How about the perspective of investors. Is it valuable for them to see companies applying BHR models as they look to invest?
A: Yes of course, if you are an investor you will look for these things as reputational damage can cost you real money. Before they will invest or buy stocks from the company, they have to see the performance of the company, including how they treat people within the organization and whether they do well on cooperate social responsibility. If not, they will go and buy shares from other companies.
Q: Companies that satisfy the conditions.
A: Yes. Human Rights can surely be counted as a factor in these considerations.
Q: In your view, what are the limitations when it comes to implement BHR models in a company?
A: An apparent limitation is the level of enforceability as this is a soft law instrument. It does not have legally binding effect. With this limitation in mind I think that there is a clear role for the state or government to do something to encourage people and companies to follow this. You can do this through different measures, for example, you can give tax reductions and encourage positive and effective BHR strategies.
Q: It also depends on how much the state decides to do about the Human Rights, correct?
A: Of course. But I am proud to say that our country is caring very much about Human Rights and we already have a national action plan on BHR. We are one of the countries that are most active in the sub region of South East Asia and even Asia.