Archana KotechaArchana Kotecha is the Hong Kong-based CEO and founder of The Remedy Project, a social enterprise that develops greater protection for vulnerable workers and identifies exploitation risks. She talks to Asian Legal Business about how the project can support companies’ broader human rights due diligence efforts, and the role lawyers should play.

 

ALB: Tell us a bit about your career, and how you came to set up the Remedy Project?

KOTECHA: After studying law and qualifying as a barrister in the UK, I practised corporate law for seven years before transitioning into human rights. I moved to Hong Kong 11 years ago, and for seven years I served as the head of legal and Asia region director for Liberty Shared, an innovative not-for-profit working to disrupt human exploitation. The Remedy project was born out of my work at Liberty Shared and represents a natural progression in my search for optimum and innovative methods of making justice more accessible to those being exploited or those who are vulnerable to exploitation. Having engaged with formal judicial mechanisms, I became painfully aware of their limitations and the growing need to find mechanisms that offer a degree of complementarity to judicial pathways. I have decided to focus on the provision of remedial solutions in global supply chains particularly within the framework of migrant workers rights’ protection and corporate human rights due diligence. With a growing brood of modern slavery compliance legislation and mandatory human rights due diligence legislation on the cards in Europe in 2021, The Remedy Project is proposing remedial solutions that will allow a diverse group of stakeholders to work together towards achieving a better ecosystem of work for the vulnerable whilst also reforming corporate governance processes that have over the years become less efficient at identifying and mitigating poor practices that lead to exploitation.

ALB: Can you tell us about the remedial guidelines you offer companies — and how these are applied across sectors and jurisdictions?

KOTECHA: The Operational Guidelines for Business on Remediation of Human Rights Grievances are offered in partner-ship with the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). Whilst broadly applicable, these guidelines have additional resources on the palm oil and electronics industries in Malaysia – a destination country for migrant labour in Southeast Asia. The guidelines are designed to: (i) primarily help companies and industry groups to develop voluntary programs of remediation and monitoring (R&M); (ii) provide practical and clear steps for operationalising R&M; (iii) recognise the specific vulnerabilities of migrant workers and be gender-sensitive; and (iv) contemplate the remediation mechanism as both a proactive and preventive mechanism that supports a company's broader human rights due diligence efforts of identifying, mitigating and preventing risk.

ALB: What can lawyers do to help their clients be vigilant against exploitation?

KOTECHA: Understanding risk is critical and this, in particular, underscores the need for (i) a deep understanding of the client’s business and potential exposure, the sector of operation, employee profiles and any commodities involved; (ii) a human rights due diligence approach to identify risks. Next comes the critical stages of mitigating the risk and taking measures to prevent recurrence of these. The risks must be understood as potentially legal, financial and reputational risks and therefore be addressed by all relevant business functions; and (iii) human trafficking, forced labour and child labour are serious criminal offences and are criminalized very widely with criminalization extending to aiders and abettors. With the ever-growing regulatory web that is becoming more focused on sanctions for non-compliance, it would be remiss not to ensure that every aspect of the company’s business has in place the right systems and protocols to identify risks and address these in a fair and transparent manner. Lawyers play a fundamental role in ensuring that their clients conduct the right diligence processes and understand the human rights impacts of the acts and omissions of their respective companies.

 

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