OXFAM, with support from Fair Finance Asia (FFA) and Gender Transformative and Responsible Agribusiness Investments in Southeast Asia (GRAISEA), has announced the launch of the “Enabling Stronger Due Diligence in the ASEAN Financial Sector” policy brief.
This has been submitted to the 2022 ASEAN Chair under the Cambodian government ahead of the ASEAN Summit in November, it added.
The policy brief’s recommendations were synthesised and refined during the “Galvanising Sustainable and Responsible Finance in ASEAN”, multi-stakeholder dialogue held in Cambodia last month, an OXFAM announcement said.
The dialogue brought together representatives from the Cambodian government and parliament, as well as the ASEAN private sector and civil society to engage with the key findings and recommendations from the joint FFA-GRAISEA “Harvesting Inequality: The Social Impact of Financial Institutions’ Investments in Asia’s Agribusinesses” report, it added.
FFA programme lead Bernadette Victorio said the policy recommendations call for action from the ASEAN financial sector and its leaders to mitigate the social risks and harms in the agribusiness sector by enabling stronger due diligence and impact assessments.
“The slow progress in implementing financial sector policies that adhere to international norms and conventions, combined with weak checks and balances at the regional and national levels often lead to continued human rights, labour rights and women’s rights violations.
“ASEAN governments and financial institutions must do more to commit, in policy and in practice, to respecting and upholding international human rights conventions and global standards in responsible finance,” Victorio said.
As a follow-up to the FFA-GRAISEA’s “Harvesting Inequality” report, the policy brief states that “despite government regulations on labour rights and gender equality, workers in the food and agriculture sector [in Asia], are still subjected to unequal conditions”, OXFAM said.
Citing evidence from the report, the policy brief asserts that financial institutions contribute to this inequality by performing “poorly in addressing sustainability issues pertaining to gender equality, labor rights, and transparency and accountability, even as they do better in addressing financial inclusion” it added.
Specifically, FFA-GRAISEA’s “Harvesting Inequality” report found that 54 highly consequential financial institutions active in the 13 Asian countries scored, on average, two out of 10 for gender equality, human rights, labour rights, and transparency and accountability, based on Fair Finance Guide International Methodology (FFGI) criteria, OXFAM said.
The policy brief, it said, covers four broad policy recommendations for ASEAN governments. These include to adopt sustainable finance taxonomies that will uphold human rights and social standards; and to strengthen enforcement mechanisms to ensure that regional – eg ASEAN RAI Guidelines – and national guidelines are fully adopted.
They also advocate the adopting of national human rights due diligence regulation for the private sector and financial institutions in accordance with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises; as well as improving women’s access to credit and financial products.
In each recommendation, the policy brief offers recommendations specific to the Cambodian context.
Sophoan Phean, Cambodia national director at OXFAM, said she was excited to submit the policy brief on sustainable finance and gender issues in the agribusiness sector to the 2022 ASEAN Chair under the Cambodian government.
“These policy recommendations will be key to mitigating the many socially harmful practices in Cambodia’s agribusiness sector, such as gender-based discrimination, chronic poverty, low wages, illness, injury and exploitation,” she said.
OXFAM in the announcement called on “ASEAN, Asian governments, and financial institutions to ensure that the rights of women farmers and workers, and other marginalised groups in the agribusiness sector, are protected”.