WATCH THE LIVESTREAM: Mary Robinson Speaker Series | Defending human rights in Southeast Asia
The Business and Human Rights Resource Centre invites you to the 9th annual event in the Mary Robinson Speaker Series on Business and Human Rights in New York City:
“Business and Civic Freedoms: Defending Human Rights in Southeast Asia"; Tue, September 25, 2018 | 6:00 - 8:00pm | Roosevelt House, 47-49 East 65th Street NY
Introduction by Mary Robinson, President, Mary Robinson Foundation -- Climate Justice, and UN Secretary General's Special Envoy on El Niño and Climate. Keynote by Tola Moeun, Director of the Center for the Alliance of Labor and Human Rights (CENTRAL) in Cambodia, which he co-founded in 2015. With panelists: Esther Htusan, Myanmar journalist and recipient of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize in Public Service for her and her team's work investigating forced labor in Southeast Asia's fishing industry; Golda Benjamin, Southeast Asia Researcher & Representative of the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre; and a speaker from business.
Around the world, unscrupulous politicians are exploiting legitimate social and economic frustrations as an excuse to crack down on fundamental freedoms -- violently disrupting protests, threatening political opponents, and jailing journalists. Governments are also attacking human rights defenders in more subtle ways, including leveraging labor and libel laws to undermine the ability of workers to organize and journalists to report.
Nowhere is this more true than in Southeast Asia, where countries that not long ago were adopting stronger checks and balances, heightened judicial independence, and improving protection of fundamental rights, are now digressing into greater repression, corruption, and impunity. In Myanmar, the government has jailed critics of its violent campaign that forced over 600,000 Rohingya to flee the country in 2017. In Thailand, repression and censorship by the ruling junta has encouraged systematic abuse of criminal defamation laws to silence activists and grassroots organizations from revealing rights abuses. And in the Philippines, Global Witness recorded 48 environmental and rights defenders killed last year, amidst a worsening culture of violence and impunity promoted by the administration’s brutal drug war that has killed over 12,000.
This panel will explore the role of companies in these attacks on civic freedoms, examining cases where the private sector has been complicit as well as where business has played a critical role in pushing back on repressive government action. The event will explore how corporate influence can be harnessed to galvanize a movement where business works to not only avoid harm, but also to use its power, leverage, and voice in order to protect fundamental freedoms.
About the Speakers
Tola began his labor rights work in 2000 as Program Manager and later Head of Labor Unit at a local NGO, after a brief stint in the Cambodian civil service left him frustrated over the corruption, discrimination and nepotism that he witnessed. In his NGO role, he harnessed his skills in law, organizing, and research to support workers who fought for better pay and conditions. He provided legal aid to workers arrested in the deadly Veng Sreng Street protests, audited factories to verify their compliance with Cambodian law, and organized and trained workers on their rights.
In 2005, Tola joined other organizations in mobilizing an International Human Rights Day celebration that drew more than 10,000 people to Phnom Penh’s Olympic Stadium. In 2010, he combined mobilization, organizing, and research to drive a national campaign for higher wages. This campaign was instrumental in enforcing an annual review of the minimum wage in Cambodia, which has since more than tripled the minimum wage for garment workers to the current $170 per month. Tola also successfully pressed the Royal Government of Cambodia to enact better policies to protect Cambodians working in Thailand, Malaysia, and other countries. In 2011, in collaboration with Cambodian and international partners, Tola helped 4,000 textile workers win a payout of more than US$2,000,000 from their employer after the factory burned down. In another case, Tola again leveraged on international support by pushing brands to ensure that workers were paid following a factory’s closure.
Tola has faced various forms of threat and intimidation because of his work, including multiple forms of judicial harassment, death threats, and threats of imminent physical harm. He received broad solidarity and support from international civil society and brands as he faced the latest criminal cases brought against him in 2017 for “breach of trust”, which the court dropped in July 2018.
Esther Htusan is a journalist from Myanmar. In 2013, Htusan joined the Associated Press as a reporter. Since then, she has been pursuing stories about human rights abuses in Myanmar following a half-century of dictatorship. She has reported on the plight of the Rohingya, Muslims living in the Rakhine state in the country’s western shore who are denied Myanmar citizenship.
Htusan was a member of the Associated Press investigation team that looked into forced labor in Southeast Asia’s fishing industry. The team’s work highlighted global supply chains linked to human rights abuses especially among migrant workers across the region in Southeast Asia. Her compassion and resourcefulness in reporting led to some of the most powerful images the world has seen about modern day slavery, including men in a cage on a remote Indonesian island. Htusan helped interviewed forced laborers who spoke of abuses at the hands of their captains and begged the journalists to tell their families back home that they were still alive. The work of Htusan and her three other colleagues won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize in Public Service.
Htusan is currently studying Human Rights and International Law at Harvard Law as a Nieman fellow for journalism.
Golda, a Filipino national, joined the Resource Centre in March 2017. She also teaches civil law and human rights at the Silliman University College of Law; and has a solo law practice in her home city, Dumaguete. Prior to this, she served as Chief for Legislation of a senator of the Republic of the Philippines and supervised the development of various laws including amendments to the anti-money laundering law, the compensation for martial law victims act, and people participation in the budget process bill. Before her full-time engagement at the Senate, Golda worked as consultant to Congress representatives working on budget reform and food security measures, and to the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee and the Secretary of the Department of Agrarian Reform. Her alternative law practice began at IDEALS, Inc.Philippines where she focused on agrarian reform, tax justice, environment and trade issues via litigation and advocacy. Golda has a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology and a Bachelor of Laws from the University of the Philippines. She also has a Masters degree, with specialization in international commercial arbitration law from Stockholm University, Sweden. She speaks English and Filipino and is currently learning French.