Montien Resolution on Human Rights and Agribusiness in Southeast Asia

Montien Resolution on Human Rights and Agribusiness in Southeast Asia

The 64 participants of this workshop drawn from South East Asian National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) from the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Timor Leste and Myanmar and from supportive civil society organisations from these countries as well as Cambodia, met in Bangkok between the 7th and 9th August 2013, to develop an action plan for the effective observance of human rights in the agribusiness sector. The meeting was convened by the Thai Human Rights Commission, with the support of the Forest Peoples Programme and the Rights and Resources Initiative.

We wish to warmly thank Professor James Anaya, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples for his encouraging support for, and his opening statement to, our workshop, in which he noted the lack of adequate and accountable mechanisms to consult with indigenous peoples prior to large-scale land acquisitions, and commended the participants for their efforts towards better recognition and protection of indigenous peoples and their rights under international law.

We also wish to thank the office of the Thai Representative to the ASEAN Inter-Governmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) for her report on the opportunities to strengthen human rights frameworks through the ASEAN human rights mechanism.

We thank Devasish Roy, member of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues for his presentation in which he emphasised the importance of international financial institutions respecting the rights of indigenous peoples, including their rights to give or withhold their free, prior and informed consent to measures that may affect their rights, and of States enforcing observation of human rights by corporations.

We welcome the important Outcome Statement from Alta, made by Indigenous Peoples in preparation for the 2014 United Nations High Level Plenary Meeting of the General Assembly to be known as the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples.[1]

The meeting took note of the Human Rights Council’s Resolution to establish a working group to develop a United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and other people working in rural areas. [2]   

We took careful note of the presentation by Adrienne Gardaz from the UN Global Compact’s new Initiative on Sustainable Agriculture which seeks to respond to global concern about how to reconcile agribusiness with food security and respect for human rights. The Global Compact encourages companies to publicly commit to uphold core human rights principles and to report annually on their progress in implementation. She emphasised that the Compact is voluntary and no substitute for State regulation and enforcement.

The meeting also noted the recent statement by the President of the World Bank, Dr Jim Yong Kim which recognises the vital role of land in sustainable development, acknowledges the risks from large-scale land acquisitions and pledges World Bank Group support for the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security (hereafter referred to as VGGT), which were developed by the Commission on Food Security under the Food and Agriculture Organisation and adopted by 194 countries in May 2012.[3] We also acknowledge and support the efforts of the civil society, human rights and indigenous peoples’ organisations that continue to advocate for the respect of human rights in the policies and operations of the World Bank.

We denounce the systematic violation of rights and hindrance to reforms enumerated in the new report compiled for the meeting, Agribusiness, Large-Scale Land Acquisitions and Human Rights in Southeast Asia.[4] We are cognizant of and have experienced the fact that despite important national variations there is increasing pressure on land throughout the region from expanding agribusinesses, and that efforts towards legal and governance reform are lacking or inadequate to ensure that this expansion takes place in ways that respect and protect human rights, and provide easily accessible remedies where these are violated. Indeed in the absence of secure tenure, sound land governance and protection of human rights, large-scale agribusiness expansion is causing serious social and environmental harms.

Reporting on their recent efforts to promote and protect human rights, we note that National Human Rights Institutions across the region are increasingly concerned about large-scale development schemes, not only in agribusiness but also mining, oil, gas, hydropower and road-building schemes, are causing escalating land conflicts. On the positive side, this challenge is increasingly recognised by a few other government agencies, but efforts to promote legal reforms, to mediate conflicts, and to provide accessible remedies are yet to be undertaken, while the hard-pressed NHRIs are being overwhelmed in their efforts to mediate conflicts by the sheer number and scale of cases.  As such, while recognising the importance of development for the ASEAN community, we reiterate and insist on the imperative for continuous examination of government policies geared towards legal and policy reform, to ensure that they adopt human rights-based approaches and eventually for States to effectively implement such approaches, thus promoting and protecting human rights from the negative impacts of agribusiness, among other business ventures.

Our attention is also called to the reports on the participation of State security forces within the context of agribusiness, and particularly in connivance with business enterprises in committing human rights abuses and violations of land rights of communities and indigenous peoples. We also heard detailed reports of how trans-boundary investments in agribusiness and other enterprises are causing serious human rights violations, hence the need for a more pro-active regional intergovernmental coordination, collaboration between NHRIs and among non-governmental organisations to address these challenges.

A review of the human rights performance of palm oil companies shows that although some progress has been made to develop voluntary standards which require respect for human rights, in practice, many companies, usually with the cooperation of State agencies, are still acquiring lands in violation of the rights of communities, including their right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent. This is leading to increased land conflicts and further human rights violations, mainly due to the inadequacy of State regulatory frameworks that in effect tolerate and facilitate these processes. 

The meeting also noted the sub-standard living and working conditions of many plantation workers across the region, particularly that of migrant labourers, who are often underpaid, sometimes working under deplorable and exploitative conditions and whose rights are all too often  inadequately protected, particularly where they are illegal migrants or stateless.

In view of the above, we have adopted a detailed action plan to pursue over the coming year. In this Resolution we highlight the following.

In accord with the Paris Principles,[5] we call on Singapore, Brunei Darussalam, Lao PDR, Vietnam and Cambodia to establish their own independent National Human Rights Commissions, in line with international standards. Likewise, we encourage countries in South East Asia that have established NHRIs to provide these with adequate budgets and strong mandates to monitor and enforce the observance of human rights in their respective countries.

Noting that the mandate of the ASEAN Inter-Governmental Commission on Human Rights is to be reviewed and revised in the coming year, we call for its scope of work to be expanded to include the monitoring of the adequacy of national measures to protect the rights of indigenous peoples, local communities, workers, migrants, women and children from harms resulting from large-scale land acquisition. We also call on ASEAN to revise the ASEAN Declaration on Human Rights in order to bring it in line with international human rights norms, and on ASEAN countries to ratify international instruments which they have yet to uphold.

We reiterate our call for States to develop effective regulatory frameworks which recognise indigenous peoples’ land rights, communal land titling, smallholder land titling, which secure communities’ rights to lands, territories and resources and which require agribusinesses to respect such rights in line with international human rights standards, including the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. We also call on States to systematically and rigorously implement the VGGT in order to ensure that adequate protection of human rights by the private sector is secured, and the impunity of corporations in collusion with States is eradicated.

Welcoming efforts by the private sector to eliminate the trade in destructively produced commodities through the development of voluntary sustainability certification standards,[6] we demand full supply chain traceability in which environmental protections are matched with comprehensive protections of human rights.

We welcome the efforts of the UN Global Compact to reconcile agribusiness with the protection and promotion of human rights, and emphasise the need for the UN Global Compact to operate in line with, and not below, existing international human rights instruments and standards.

We emphasise the need to identify and encourage alternative production systems, based on secure rights of the concerned groups over their lands, territories and resources, so that local communities, indigenous peoples and smallholders can have greater control of production based on diversified land use. 

Noting that rapid and large-scale transboundary land investments and development schemes can overwhelm the capacity of both national and local institutions to ensure fair outcomes, we call on all concerned parties to take steps to regulate and control such investments and encourage close collaboration between the national human rights institutions and civil society groups to monitor such activities to ensure that international human rights norms are respected and adhered to. Concerted efforts are needed from all parties to develop adequate due diligence for companies and investors and for companies to adopt human rights policies, carry out human rights impact assessments and implement effective plans to ensure respect for human rights in the agribusinesses they support, invest in and from which they acquire products. 

We also call for coordinated action by both companies and governments to curb the exploitation of workers, especially migrants, women and children in large-scale plantations, and for governments to make determined efforts to eliminate all forms of forced labour, sexual exploitation and slavery-like practices from agribusinesses in the region.

Finally, we warmly welcome the invitation from the participants from Myanmar to host the next meeting of this process in Yangon in 2014 and we offer them our support and cooperation.

Adopted by consensus

 20th August 2013