Connecting the Dots: Building Momentum
for Bottom-Up Action
While the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) contain explicit pillars for States and businesses, the role of civil society is addressed more implicitly. Nonetheless, the underlying rationale of the UNGPs framework acknowledges the important roles civil society actors can play in promoting business respect for human rights. Although current approaches to business and human rights have been guided by top-down strategies, one can increasingly observe innovative ways through which civil society demands business respect for human rights and corporate accountability.
For example, when the COVID-19 pandemic struck the world, garment brands with global supply chains resorted to order cancellations by invoked so-called force majeure clauses in their contracts with suppliers. These courses of events hit garment manufacturers particularly hard, including those in South Asia, and resulted in workers being laid off and losing their livelihoods. In response to the perceived injustice, activists and civil society organizations turned to social media under the “#PayUp” hashtag, calling out brands to pay their suppliers in order for workers to be compensated for the labour they had already provided. As a result, garment brands paid, by some accounts, at least $15 billion for orders they had initially cancelled.
Arguably, this example is just one of many innovative ways through which civil society actors can raise awareness, connect global, regional and national movements, and incentivize action on business and human rights. Indeed, various actors can be involved or engaged in bottom-up strategies, including journalists, consumers and citizens, young people, activists and influencers, academics, human rights defenders, trade unions, civil society organizations and others.
The session will showcase innovative bottom-up initiatives through which a wide range of civil society actors have demanded business respect for human rights and corporate accountability. Panellists will also reflect on the yet untapped potential of these actors and the tools at their disposal, and stimulate participants to consider innovative ways of initiating broader societal engagement and moving the needle on business and human rights in South Asia.
The key objectives of this session are to:
Highlight the value of bottom-up approaches for rights holders and business and human rights discourse and discuss how to complement top-down approaches with bottom-up approaches;
Showcase innovative bottom-up approaches and reflect on potential future strategies for South Asia;
Discuss the respective roles and tools at the disposal of journalists, consumers and citizens, young people, activists and influencers, academics, human rights defenders, trade unions, civil society organizations and others.
Discuss the potential of collective action between these actors where civil space is shrinking.
Panelists will reflect on the following questions:
Why are bottom-up approaches important? How can they complement top-down approaches?
What are some examples of innovative bottom-up approaches which have made a difference to rights holders? What else is possible?
How can civil society actors (e.g. journalists, consumers and citizens, young people, activists and influencers, academics, human rights defenders, trade unions, civil society organizations) utilize bottom-up approaches?