Oxfam Report Highlights the Potential of Business to Foster Growth and Equality
Business has a prime role to play in building an ASEAN that works for all Asians, says the Oxfam Report “The Future of Business: Shaping inclusive growth in South-East Asia,” launched as the World Economic Forum (WEF) ASEAN meeting kicks off in Ha Noi, Viet Nam, 11-13 September 2018.
The report explores how businesses can adopt models that peruse both sustainable financial success and social, community and environmental wellbeing. This is aligned with the ASEAN Economic Community Blueprint 2025 states which envisions a resilient, inclusive, and people-centered economy in the region.
The demand is high for companies who develop market-based solutions to social and environmental challenges. 64% of South-East Asians say they’ll pay more to companies who care, a higher percentage than most of the developed world. Social impact investment is growing with $3.6 billion spent in South-East Asia, and investors and governments are increasingly incentivizing and demanding ethical and responsible business.
South-East Asia has seen remarkable economic growth driven largely by private enterprise with the Gross domestic product (GDP) in the ASEAN region climbing from $37.6 billion to $2.6 trillion in less than five decades.
Unfortunately, despite this economic progress, the divide between the rich and poor has continued to grow. While the Asia Pacific is home to more billionaires than anywhere else, more than 70 million in South East and East Asia don’t have enough food to eat. In Vietnam, the country’s richest man earns more in a day than the poorest person earns in 10 years. The four richest men in Indonesia have more wealth than 100 million people, and in Thailand, 56% of national wealth is owned by the richest 1%.
Given that both growth and inequality seem to be a result or businesses, they have the strongest potential to change the dynamics of how prosperity is shared, by being more inclusive and responsible.
From initiatives that promote social and environmental sustainability in the Cambodian agriculture and garments sectors and inclusive businesses working with poor communities in Thailand and Laos, to Fair Trade social enterprises whose profits are plowed back to producers, a vibrant spectrum of more equitable, inclusive, and sustainable business models is emerging.
However, at present, Inclusive business is the exception rather than the norm, and this needs to change. They are often the result of partnerships between unlikely allies - entrepreneurs, communities, and civil society organizations like Oxfam, and such novel coalitions are crucial to building inclusive businesses.
Speaking marking the launch of the report, Lan Mercado, Asia Regional Director of Oxfam International said, “Today, all businesses have a fundamental and unshakable duty to respect the rights of their workers and communities and to pay a decent living income.
“On top of that, there is an opportunity for businesses to stand out by embracing practices that make them more people and environmentally friendly. The real rewards can only be reaped by working in ways where business and society can benefit together by integrating social and environmental factors at the core of business operations.”