Religion, Business & Human Rights : developing an understanding of the religious phenomenon

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On September 6, the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights — a long-standing partner of the AEDH — organised a conference on “Religion, Business & Human Rights,” at the European Parliament. This conference was met with substantial interest.

Vietnam and the European Union are to sign a free-trade agreement whose impact on human rights is neither the European Commission nor Vietnam’s biggest priority. Vietnam is intensifying its crackdown on civil society to the point of absurdity. This summer, bloggers and human rights defenders have been severely condemned — up to 10 years’ imprisonment — or arrested on charges of subversion.

When comparing economic liberalisation and human rights, the first idea that comes to mind is a big corporation violating workers’ rights or polluting the environment. However, some large corporations have disassociated themselves from the Trump Administration and its accommodating attitude towards white supremacists, showing a different side of the business world, a side in which corporations promote human rights.  

This was the approach taken by the “Religion, Business & Human Rights” Conference organised at the European Parliament in Brussels by the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights and EPRID (The European Platform on Religious Intolerance and Discrimination) on September 6, 2017. The Conference was chaired by MEP Ramon Tremosa i Balcells (ALDE) and attended by a great diversity of speakers: Dr Ján Figel, the Special Envoy on the Promotion of Freedom of Religion or Belief outside the EU, Merete Bild from the European External Action Service, Dr Brian J. Grim, President of the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation (USA), Prof. Michael Wakelin of the University of Cambridge, Amarjit Singh, Partner at Ernst & Young LLP (UK), and Penelope Faulker, Vice-President of VCHR. Freedom of religion is critical in an ever-increasingly religious world (according to the Pew Research Center, 84% of the world’s population has some religious affiliation).

Nevertheless, the issue of religious discrimination in businesses is new and is still overlooked. In the secular and postmodern Western World, the idea of practising faith has been lost. As a result, believers are often ignored or even rejected, if it is that they are not equated to being fanatics. This misunderstanding is unfortunate when dealing with cultures where religion is regarded differently than it is in the Western World. In Vietnam for instance, religion is a commitment and a way of life, and Vietnamese Buddhism is a true movement for social justice and, in today’s world, for human rights and democracy.   Contrary to popular belief, businesses should be concerned about religious freedom. If employees feel accepted in all aspects of their diversity (including their religious beliefs), they will be more productive and loyal, and consumers will likewise be more inclined to choose the businesses that are most respectful of their beliefs. However, businesses still have to implement a thoughtful policy on religion and have an understanding of religious practice. It is certainly not a matter of spreading faith but of including people from various religious backgrounds in the best possible way. It is therefore essential to develop a true knowledge of religious practice and open-mindedness. To achieve this, it is crucial to foster dialogue between businesses and civil society. This was the intended purpose of the Conference organised on September 6.

Vo Tran Nhat (Comité Vietnam pour la défense des Droits de l'Homme)



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