Press Release: Sustainable Finance is Key to Advancing Gender Equality in ASEAN’s Agriculture Sector, Fair Finance Asia Says

Press Release: Sustainable Finance is Key to Advancing Gender Equality in ASEAN’s Agriculture Sector, Fair Finance Asia Says

Women workers and smallholder farmers contribute immensely to ASEAN’s agriculture sector, despite continuing to face significant gender inequalities and injustices (Photo: Oxfam in Cambodia)

BALI, Indonesia, August 22, 2023 – Fair Finance Asia (FFA) and Gender Transformative and Responsible Agribusiness Investments in South-East Asia (GRAISEA), both Oxfam programs, have launched a new policy brief alongside the Sixth Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Inclusive Business (IB) Summit in Bali, Indonesia. Titled, Rights and Risk-Based Due Diligence in Financing the ASEAN Agriculture Sector, the policy brief is a follow up to FFA-GRAISEA’s Enabling Stronger Due Diligence in the ASEAN’s Financial Sector (2022), a joint policy brief submitted to the Royal Government of Cambodia, which Chaired the ASEAN in 2022. 

FFA’s new policy brief details regional-level insights and recommendations aimed at accelerating the implementation of sustainable and responsible finance policies and practices that promote gender equality and human rights in the region’s food and agriculture sector. In particular, ASEAN is urged to integrate critical rights and risk-based elements and indicators into the ASEAN Taxonomy Version 2. 

“Financial institutions hold tremendous leverage over public and private borrowers to enable women’s economic empowerment (WEE), gender equality, and human rights in ASEAN’s agriculture sector,” said Fair Finance Asia Research and Advocacy Advisor, Victoria Caranay. “However, due to slow alignment with international conventions and standards by financial institutions and weak enforcement at the regional and national level, millions of workers and farmers continue to be subjected to unequal working and living conditions, especially women. Financial institutions and ASEAN Member States must do more to commit to sustainable and responsible finance standards.” 

Citing data from FFA-GRAISEA’s 2022 Harvesting Inequality report, which was developed alongside research partner Profundo, the policy brief highlights that nearly 90% of banks financing ASEAN’s agriculture sector do not disclose information on how gender issues and women’s rights are addressed in their business engagements or investments; most also do not consider human rights in their transactions. The policy brief also underlines that sustainability frameworks, such as the Gender Guidance for the UN Guiding Principles (UNGPs) on Business and Human Rights (BHR) and ASEAN Guidelines on Promoting Responsible Investment in Food, Agriculture and Forestry (ASEAN RAI) are voluntary and have limited, or no, enforcement and monitoring mechanisms. The same challenge is true for National Action Plans (NAPs) on BHR launched by some ASEAN Member States. 

“Women workers and farmers not only contribute immensely to the productivity of ASEAN’s agriculture sector, they are also pillars in their families and communities, often burdening the majority of Unpaid Care and Domestic Work (UCDW).” said PRAKARSA Program Manager, Herni Ramdlaningrum. “Even so, women in the agriculture sector continue to be subjected to, and disproportionately experience, human rights violations, exploitative working conditions, sexual harassment, and gender-based discrimination and violence. ASEAN Member States must do more to ensure that they are protected, along with other marginalized groups.” 

This policy brief was launched on August 21 at a side event organized by FFA, PRAKARSA, Small Business Women Companion Association (ASPPUK), People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty (KRKP), International NGO Forum on Indonesian Development (INFID), ResponsiBank Indonesia and Oxfam in Indonesia alongside the Sixth ASEAN IB Summit. The side event facilitated multi-stakeholder discussions between high-level government officials, inclusive business leaders, financial institutions and investors, development partners, and civil society organizations (CSOs) aimed at synthetizing policy recommendations on inclusive business, gender, and sustainable finance towards the ASEAN Chairship under Indonesia in 2023. 

“While the continued growth of ASEAN’s agriculture sector has driven economic prosperity, we cannot turn a blind eye to the negative social impacts of the region’s complex food and agricultural value chains, especially on women,” said Oxfam in Asia Regional Director John Samuel. “Oxfam calls on ASEAN Member States to accelerate the development, implementation, and enforcement of frameworks and legislation that incentivize and enable financial institutions, and the companies they invest in, to comply with international conventions and standards.” 

The policy brief covers six recommendations for financial institutions: 

  • Comply with international conventions on respect for labor rights and women’s rights, and integrate sustainability standards and regulations. 
  • Develop sector-specific policies for industries associated with significant environmental and social risks. 
  • Adopt a gender-responsive approach to Human Rights Due Diligence (HRDD) that adequately addresses the disproportionate impact of investments on women and girls. 
  • Enable access to remedy for those impacted by financing and investments. 
  • Collaborate on regional platforms and initiatives that promote responsible investment and best practices in inclusive and responsible agribusiness. 
  • Support and promote the adoption of binding legislation, national laws, and regulations that ensure responsible financing includes BHR at the national and regional level. 

The policy brief also covers four recommendations for ASEAN Member States:  

  • Adopt a binding sustainable finance taxonomy that will uphold human rights and social standards. 
  • Adopt national HRDD regulation for the private sector and financial institutions in accordance with the UNGPs on BHR and OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. 
  • Strengthen enforcement mechanisms to ensure that regional and national guidelines are fully adopted, and that compliance is monitored, evaluated, and reported. 
  • Improve women’s financial literacy and access to credit and financial products. 

For further inquiries, please contact: 

Kyle Cruz 

Knowledge and Communications Manager, Fair Finance Asia   

Himanshi Matta 

Communications and Media Lead, Oxfam in Asia 

Note to Editors: 

To read the full policy brief, click here.

Fair Finance Asia (FFA) is a regional network of Asian CSOs committed to ensuring that financial institutions’ funding decisions in the region respect the social and environmental well-being of local communities.  For more information about FFA, visit: 

Oxfam’s Gender Transformative and Responsible Agribusiness Investments in South East Asia (GRAISEA) program is a regional program funded by the Embassy of Sweden in Bangkok. GRAISEA aims to improve the livelihoods of small-scale producers in the agribusiness sector in Asia through inclusive value chains and responsible business practices that drive women’s economic empowerment, integrate human rights, and improve communities’ resilience to climate change. For more information about GRAISEA, visit: 

Oxfam is a global movement of millions of people who share the belief that, in a world rich in resources, poverty is not inevitable. Our vision is a just world without poverty. We want a world where people enjoy their rights as full citizens; where every woman and man is empowered, valued and treated equally; where individuals can influence decisions affecting their lives. For more information about Oxfam in Asia, visit: