Business and Human Rights Training for National Human Rights Institutions in Asia

The United Nations Responsible Business and Human Rights Forum for Asia-Pacific took place in Bangkok, Thailand from 5-9 June 2023. Together with Professor Justine Nolan from the Australian Human Rights Institute at UNSW Sydney and Ahmed Shahid from the Asia-Pacific Forum, I delivered a business and human rights training training over two sessions on 5-6 June 2023. It was designed as a collaborative and interactive program intended to foster knowledge by involving participants in discussions and practical exercises to enhance their ability to handle business and human rights issues.

You can read more reflections below the post. Photo credit: UNDP.

The forum is a melting pot of various stakeholders in the Asia-Pacific region, brings governments, civil society organisations, human rights defenders, trade unions, business enterprises, industry associations, employers’ organisations, international organisations, human rights institutions, journalists, lawyers, activists, campaigners, and academia. Stakeholders engaged in meaningful dialogue and peer-learning to boost responsible business practices and corporate responsibility, sending a strong appeal for stakeholders to transform their commitment to human rights to action.

This year’s forum held special significance as 2023 marks the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, creating an opportune moment to ponder over the role of responsible business in shaping the future of human rights, and providing a significant turning point to transition from commitment to action in reinforcing the State duty to protect human rights, the corporate responsibility to respect human rights, access to effective remedy, and global solidarity for everyone’s rights.

Reflections on the Business and Human Rights Training

In 2018, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) established a project on business and human rights (BHR), called “Business and Human Rights in Asia: Promoting Responsible Business Practices through Regional Partnerships” (B+HR Asia).[1] The project seeks to advance BHR and the implementation of the United Nations’ Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) by supporting governments, business, civil society, and independent national human rights institutions (NHRIs). In 2021 B+HR Asia set out to create an inaugural training programme for NHRIs to improve BHR proficiency. Following a tender process, a team of academics developed a curriculum to achieve B+HR Asia’s objectives. This post briefly sheds light on the development, delivery, and efficacy of the curriculum.


NHRIs are state-mandated bodies that are intended to operate independently of government to promote and protect human rights. The Edinburgh Declaration (2010), adopted during the 10th International Conference of NHRIs, emphasises the role that NHRIs can play in addressing BHR challenges, at the global, regional, and national level. A report by the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights highlights three key roles for NHRIs: 1) collaboration with other judicial and non-judicial remedy mechanisms; 2) cooperation amongst NHRIs in cross-border and transnational cases; and 3) protecting civil society organisations and human rights defenders.  NHRIs are thus an important vehicle to influence BHR outcomes.

In 2021, the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights stated that academic institutions are “uniquely placed to help scale up awareness on the UNGPs and the understanding that respect for human rights and environment should be at the core of business’ role in society.” Scholars point out that BHR is inherently interdisciplinary, drawing on more established academic disciplines including law, management, business ethics, public policy, and international relations. Teaching BHR therefore involves a multifaceted approach that balances theory and practice.

Foundational knowledge of human rights as they relate to business is the starting point for any BHR instruction. This entails learning about the UNGPs and other (inter)national BHR agreements and frameworks. It is important to inform the cohort about how BHR standards are applied in various settings. This can be achieved by using case studies. Examples of effective business practices and situations in which corporations disregarded human rights should also be included. Understanding the nuances of putting BHR ideas into practice is aided by an analysis of real-world situations. It is essential to talk about the legal aspects, particularly how both international and national laws are applied to address the negative effects of commercial activity, possibly across borders. It is also vital to consider broader stakeholder perspectives, including that of business and civil society, and the manner in which such groups can and should be engaged by NHRIs.

It is important to equip the cohort with real-world skills, so they can identify and address BHR challenges in different contexts. BHR is a dynamic field where academic concepts and practical examples serve as essential counterpoints to each other. Role-playing can be useful in fostering these abilities. Continuous adaptation is required due to the evolution of BHR standards, shifting stakeholder and rights holder expectations, and growing social and environmental concerns. A BHR curriculum needs to reflect these developments. Finally, a programme designed for practitioners should encourage mutual exchange. Peer-to-peer learning facilitates the exchange of varied experiences and viewpoints.The curriculum should therefore include significant interactive opportunities for knowledge exchange.


NHRIs in Asia are at varying levels of knowledge concerning BHR. To ensure that NHRIs operate at a level playing field, we recommended to first create two asynchronous online modules that offer foundational knowledge. We proposed two subsequent asynchronous online modules would focus on stakeholder engagement and access to remedy. The latter modules can serve as a basis for future specialised modules, as it is important to understand stakeholder engagement before, for example, engaging with governments on the development of NAPs. Similarly, it is necessary to have a basic understanding of remedy before engaging in monitoring and investigation.

The online modules contained a mix of content (text, short videos, and quizzes). The benefit of asynchronous online learning is that this can be commenced whenever best suits the participants. The online asynchronous modules were designed to be complemented by a synchronous in-person training. Synchronous delivery provides opportunities for peer-to-peer exchange and learning. We proposed that the synchronous component would be spread over two days, with each session taking up around half a day. The in-person training programme had fifteen participants representing eight NHRIs.

NHRIs  F M Total
Bangladesh 1 1 2
India 2 2
Thailand 3 1 4
Maldives 1 1
Sri Lanka 1 1
Mongolia 1 1
Malaysia 2 1 3
Nepal 1 1
 Total 7 8 15


Our approach sought to improve NHRI knowledge of BHR, enhance their strategic engagement, and foster their role in facilitating access to remedy. The curriculum was informed by the key roles that NHRIs can play, as identified by the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights, observations by UN Human Rights Council, the Needs Assessment, and the five project objectives identified by B+HR Asia. BHR scholarly literature helped us to identify key curriculum components. Below are the key findings following the development and delivery of the curriculum:

  • Increase in BHR knowledge: The feedback from participants post- synchronous training highlights an increase in knowledge on the identified topics.
  Number of responses against each ranking
  Before the Course After the Course
Proficiency: 1 2 3 4 5 6 1 2 3 4 5 6
Session 1: 4 8 3 1 7 9
Session 2: 1 7 3 4 1 4 7 5
Session 3: 1 3 6 2 3 1 2 2 6 6
Session 4: 1 5 5 3 2 6 5 5
Session 5: 1 4 4 6 1 5 3 8
Session 6: 2 4 3 6 1 1 4 4 7


1 2 3 4 5 6
Not at all knowledgeable Slightly knowledgeable Moderately knowledgeable Very knowledgeable Extremely knowledgeable Proficient

Participants, in their feedback, also highlighted areas for improvement. They call for more country-specific and practical case studies, which is a likely reflection of the diverse legal and cultural landscapes in which they operate. Participants also provided suggestions to improve any future training of this nature by including more focus on the role of government and courts, as well as additional content on specific areas such as supply chain, CSR, and the informal sector.

  • Impact of real-life best practice examples. The expressed desire for technical training and more in-depth practical examples of collaboration implies that NHRIs are seeking actionable knowledge that goes beyond theoretical understanding.
  • Need for specialist BHR knowledge. Some participants wished to include topics such as supply chain management, informal workers, and the gig economy. This indicates awareness among some NHRIs about economic trends and their implications for human rights and underlines the need for an evolving BHR curriculum.
  • Complexity of teaching participant with varied knowledge levels. Due to the varying levels of knowledge and capacity among NHRIs, identified in the Needs Assessment, we elected not to address access to remedy in the synchronous sessions, opting instead to focus on foundational topics.
  • Limited engagement with the asynchronous online modules. A drawback was the limited engagement of NHRI participants with the online modules. The meant that during the in-person training, the team had to spend extra time on preparatory topics covered in the online modules.
  • Value of synchronous face to face training. Over a period of two days, participants built trust with each other that led to the exchange of insights into how NHRI practices can be enhanced to better support BHR stakeholders.


The project commissioned by B+HR Asia signifies an important step in integrating BHR into the operational framework of NHRIs across Asia. The curriculum demonstrates great potential to bolster the role of NHRIs in advancing BHR across the region and provides a solid base for the development of future trainings. The need for iterative improvements based on participant feedback will be crucial for the programme’s ongoing relevance, efficacy, and impact, and to grow the role of NHRIs in the promotion of responsible business practices and the protection of human rights in Asia.

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