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Opinion

No action too small when it comes to a company’s respect for human rights

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Sumur Bandung, Indonesia

Running my own business was not part of my dream growing up. As a final year law student, I was heavily involved in legal and human rights advocacy and this has influenced my career choice. After graduating from law school, I decided to join the Legal Aid Institute (LBH) Bandung and starting my own business never crossed my mind.

In 2013, I worked for a media company in Jakarta. There, I learned about business processes to which I had previously not been exposed. I was always on the lookout for interesting angles in every debate in the management on how to strengthen our business and better serve our readers. The knowledge, skills and deep insights that I gained from the company have been an enriching and valuable experience.

In mid-2019, the Institute for Criminal Justice Reform (ICJR), an independent research institute that focuses on criminal law and justice reform in Indonesia where I serve as a board member wanted to explore the idea of establishing a company that focuses on providing information and knowledge services. At the Annual General Meeting of Shareholders that year, ICJR and its six co-founders appointed me to lead the company given my experience and knowledge in the business sector. The company is classified as a small enterprise due to the size of its capital base.

From its inception, the company has been conscious of its commitment to respect human rights in every aspect of its business activities. While this commitment is not explicitly stated in the company’s statute, human rights are ingrained in the DNA of the company. Delivering social impact and respecting diversity are a core part of its business strategy. While there are discrete differences between managing a non-profit organisation and running a conventional business, to me the most telling similarity is that both need these resources – people, money and equipment (technology).

Running a small enterprise is fairly similar to managing a non-profit organisation. The human factor plays an central role in the sustainability of the company, whereas money and equipment (technology) will follow once the human factor is rightly attended to. Therefore, respecting your employees is the fundamental foundation of your business. Once you recognise this, respect for human rights becomes part of the company’s culture and a distinctive feature of its business operations.

In every campaign and promotion on social media, we always pay attention to various aspects of human rights, particularly with regard to anti-discrimination and respect for the rights of minorities and vulnerable groups. Internally, we also develop a culture of respecting the right to freedom of opinion. Consensus plays a crucial role in developing the company's business strategy.

Like other small enterprises in Indonesia, the company experienced cash flow shortages as a result of the large-scale social restriction to contain the spread of the virus. Despite this, the company managed to retain all of its employees without reducing any rights of its employees. Both the management and employees work hand-in-hand to cope with the uncertainty brought on by the pandemic. Trust is built between the management and employees because of the company's commitment to human rights.

From a business perspective, the Omnibus Law on Job Creation (“Omnibus Law”), which was signed by the President on 2 November 2020 is transformative. It seeks to improve bureaucratic efficiency by streamlining different regulations and simplifying business licensing processes – which is potentially helpful as it is common knowledge that business licensing is a big obstacle for micro and small enterprises like ours to establish and run the business. The lack of legal certainty and the fact that micro and small businesses have to deal with the same regulatory requirements applicable as well-established and big businesses have taken away our time from running the business. For example, even if you have a fee reduction or waiver for registering your trademark, it does not solve the main problem – the complicated business licensing processes.

But despite welcome efforts to simplify the regulatory landscape, the labour standards established by the Omnibus Law fall short of international labour law standards. As someone who runs a business, I am clear such changes should never have been introduced in the first place. Experience has taught me that treating your employees with respect and investing in their professional development will contribute to a low turnover rate and the achievement of the company’s goal and mission.

Workers’ rights to severance pay, long service pay and compensation in the event of layoffs, has been strongly criticised by the labour unions due to the reduction of its components and resulted in a conflict between employees and employers. Such a conflict can be mitigated by replacing severance pay with unemployment insurance benefits. As employers, we need to create fair and equitable workplaces where human rights are respected and that layoffs will be the last resort to lowering labour costs.

While criticism of the Omnibus Law continues, our employees continue to have a high confidence in the company because of the company's long-term vision on human rights. The situation has yet to improve, but we continue to gain trust from different stakeholders because of our commitment to respecting for human rights.

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