Companies and Civil Society Showcase the Benefits of Fair and Sustainable Business Practices at Asia Inclusive & Responsible Business Forum

By Oxfam

Leaders from private sector and civil society, at the Asia Inclusive & Responsible Business Forum (Asia-IRB), highlighted the benefits of integrating sustainability into business models and stressed on the need for active collaboration for putting the well-being of people and planet at the heart of all business practices.

The Asia-IRB Forum, organized by Oxfam in Bangkok on 28th February 2023, convened more than 80 business leaders, civil society groups from Asia and international agencies. Discussions were held on how businesses are taking steps and have benefitted from providing decent wages, empowering women, being inclusive, and adapting to create clean production and supply chains which have minimum impact on the climate. The forum also looked at ways of strengthening collaboration between different stakeholders.

Cambodian producer and exporter of organic rice AMRU Rice was among the 15 private sector speakers to take the stage and share insights on their responsible business practice approach.

“We are trying to build an ecosystem where everyone in the value chain benefits, particularly the small-scale farmer. Our model promotes fairer commercial benefits to farmers through direct share ownership, fair price and premiums for their crops through Contract Supply Agreements. We are working closely with civil society to support crop diversification which could enable a yearlong income for the farmers. We also promote climate resilience techniques with farmers including the use of greenhouses and intercropping, to help reduce carbon dioxide emissions and increase productivity,” said Kunthy Kann, Vice President, AMRU Rice.

Oxfam recognizes the enormous positive impact that businesses can have in reducing poverty, but corporations have also contributed to increased inequality, climate change and environmental damage. During the pandemic, Oxfam research, Not in This Together  highlighted how unfair business systems led to corporations making profits while workers in the food supply chain struggled to retain their jobs.

“Asian companies are increasingly recognizing the global pursuit of environmental and social justice. But it is not enough. For a more inclusive and responsible economy, companies should go beyond the project-based corporate social responsibility approach and implement sustainable practices into their core operational models.

This forum highlighted how companies of different sizes operating in diverse economies– Thailand to Nigeria— can and have adopted more planet and people-oriented strategy without compromising on their financial performance,” said Jacques-Chai Chomthongdi, Private Sector Lead, Oxfam in Asia.

Bangkok based global seafood processor and exporter company Thai Union spoke about collaborating with the civil society at global and local level to improve knowledge on critical ethical issues.

“We leveraged the knowledge of civil society to support effective monitoring and capacity building of our operations. We also contracted fishing vessels to promote safe and legal labor… Working in partnership was fundamental to build an inclusive and sustainable business model. We need to collaborate with everyone – governments, civil society and customers,” said Prad Kerdpairoj, Regional Director of Sustainability, Thai Union.

In lower income economies, a large share of Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) are a source of livelihood for the base of the pyramid population. Individual SMEs have the potential to adopt actions that empower local communities, provide decent working conditions and access to social protection.

A healthcare startup in Combodia is improving elderly care and providing accessible healthcare via mobile clinics. The company also focuses on implementing reforms that promote the well-being of women workers.

“Investing in a healthcare startup has a significant social impact. Our successes [business] have led to better healthcare outcomes and improved access to medical services, especially for underserved communities. This has led to a more equitable distribution of healthcare resources and, reducing health disparities, said Phirum Dyphan, CEO, MUCH Mobile Healthcare (Cambodia).

JAEBEE Furniture is a Nigerian social enterprise that adheres to OXFAM’s social enterprise model, prioritizing the creation of a more inclusive and equitable world. Apart from selling their products, they also run an academy where they train and teach people about the strategies to build their own furniture business.

“We know that investing in women’s education and employment is critical to making a social impact. We’re committed to providing a platform for disadvantaged women in our communities, and bringing young women who are out of school into our furniture business. By taking care of people in our community, we’re able to reduce overhead costs and increase profitability. Our approach is all about helping people – because we know that when we help others, we all benefit,” said Igbodike Joy Bamidele, CEO, Jaebee Furniture (Nigeria).

The forum concluded with stakeholders committing to continue working towards equitable business models, explore opportunities and take action to help other businesses of all sizes prioritize purpose, fairness and sustainability as much as profit to create a ‘human economy’.