Sex workers rights advocate Sirisak Chaited speaks at a panel on National Action Plan on promoting equality on June 27, 2019.

BANGKOK — Thailand is working on a National Action Plan to encourage the private sector to respect human rights  – but critics fear it won’t be effective if it’s not legally binding. 

Businesses will have no legal obligation to implement the plan, which is akin to a set of voluntary good practice guidelines, warned Emilie Pradichit, the director of the Manushya Foundation, on Thursday. 

“If it’s not mandatory, then nothing is going to change in Thailand,” said the director of the human rights NGO, at a meeting co-organized by the Thai Business and Human Rights Network.

Another limiting factor on the NAP’s potential impact is that the Justice Minister will adopt it on a ministerial level, meaning the guidelines will not apply to other ministries and departments. 

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Caretaker human rights commissioner Angkhana Neelapaijit hopes the NAP will eventually be adopted at the cabinet level, but said it is better to have guidelines than nothing. 

“At least there will be something that people can cite,” Angkhanan said. 

Draft guidelines include baseline assessments to improve labor rights standards, rules for decent working conditions, and human rights impact assessment reports.

Several activists and community leaders aired specific grievances about the private sector’s treatment of human rights issues in the meeting.

Pradichit isolated environmental, land and community rights violations caused by corporations, as well as libel litigation filed against human defenders, also known as SLAPP, to discourage public participation.

Katima Leeja, an ethnic Lisu and member of the Indigenous Women Network of Thailand similarly warned that several land rights activists face legal threats as they try to defend against business encroachment.

Meanwhile Sirisak Chaited, an activist for sex workers’ rights, said the action plan should do away with the Protection and Prevention of Prostitution Act. 

“The work is made illegal so [sex] workers cannot seek a loan [legally] and cannot form a union in order to engage in collective bargaining,” said Sirisak.