Multinational companies play a key role in upholding workers' rights and better working conditions across the Asia-Pacific, according to delegates to a regional labor forum in Singapore.
Githa Roelans, head of the International Labor Organization's multinational enterprise and enterprise engagement unit, cited the ILO's Tripartite Declaration of Principles concerning Multinational Enterprises and Social Policy (MNE Declaration) and how this can promote a more responsible business environment in the region.
The MNE Declaration, adopted in 1977, aims to encourage MNEs to contribute to economic and social progress and the realization of decent work for all. The Declaration includes principles and policies in the fields of employment, training, conditions of work and life, and industrial relations that governments, employers' and workers' organizations, and MNEs can implement on a voluntary basis.
The Declaration is "the only instrument of the ILO that directly addresses enterprises, with the objective to stimulate the positive contribution that business can lead to inclusive economic growth and decent work," Roelans said in a panel discussion held during the ILO's 17th Asia-Pacific Regional Meeting.
She said the "responsible business conduct agenda…is becoming an increasingly important agenda around the world".
Roelans said this is even more important in the Asia-Pacific as it is "a very important hub" for MNEs both through their own operations and through their supply chains. The region is also a major recipient of foreign direct investments.
She said business responsibility involves conducting due diligence on how their business operations may affect people and the planet. The ILO is working with employer organizations, trade unions, and governments on the need for due diligence.
Nozomi Tomita, senior assistant minister for international affairs at Japan's ministry of health, labor and welfare, said the Japanese government held a dialogue with different stakeholders regarding the principles laid out in the MNE declaration. This allowed Japan to develop industry-wide guidelines in conducting due diligence in supply chains.
"These guidelines (require) companies to ensure respect for human life, not only by themselves, but also by their business partners in Japan and abroad," Tomita said. He said these guidelines were also developed with inputs from social partners and other experts.
He said MNEs and suppliers work together to promote socially responsible practices based on the principles of the declaration. They also agree that these practices improve the competitiveness of companies.
Tomita said an "effective social dialogue" can be achieved not only through the domestic tripartite mechanism of government, labor and management, but also through involving major stakeholders outside Japan.
Tran Thi Lan Anh, secretary-general and director-general of the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said the private sector's commitments to sustainable development and responsible business has helped Vietnam navigate through the pandemic.
"All the companies support the government and workers… (companies retain workers) and provide for the welfare of workers," Tran said.
She said Vietnam is keen to upgrade the quality of investment inflows to boost the economy and uplift the condition of Vietnamese workers.
According to Tran, MNEs can bring substantial benefits to their host countries by "contributing to the more efficient usage of capital, labor and technology" and promoting economic and social welfare of its workers. But the labor market must provide a human resource with appropriate skills, she said.
Tran said Vietnam lacks skilled workers and this is a problem for Vietnam-based companies. "It is critical to recruit the best talent with a mix of skills because this contributes to higher productivity, sustainability and competitiveness of business," she said.
Tran said Vietnamese schools need to update their curriculum to match the needs of the economy and provide companies with skilled employees. Company-sponsored training and development can also support lifelong learning and career transitioning.