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Opening Plenary - The Global Economy After COVID-19: Turning Challenges Into Opportunities

An event with Ms. Sharan Burrow, Prof. Surya Deva, Dr. Harpreet Kaur, Mr. Gam Shimray, Mr. Kaveh Zahedi, H.E. Mr. Pär Ahlberger, Ms. Panudda Boonpala, Ms. Valerie Cliff, Mr. Marcoluigi Corsi, Ms. Shamini Darshni Kaliemuthu, Mr. Rajeev Dubey and Ms. Sarah Knibbs
International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), United Nations Working Group on Business and Human Rights, United Nations Development Programme, Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP), The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Government of Sweden, International Labour Organization, United Nations Development Programme, UNICEF East Asia and Pacific, Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), Mahinda & Mahindra Ltd. / Mahindra Insurance Brokers and UN Women Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

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About this event


The COVID-19 pandemic is not only a public health crisis but also a social and economic one. This unprecedented shock to economies and markets is threatening livelihoods and the wellbeing of millions of people in both developed and developing countries. Developing countries are forecast to be affected disproportionately, with marginalized sections of society especially at risk of being drawn into poverty. Since COVID-19 once again reveals structural patterns of inequality and social injustice, it is crucial to reflect on how we can adopt human rights-based approaches to address these structural issues, recover from the COVID-19 crisis, and build back better our global and national economies.

In April, the ILO estimated the equivalent of 305 million full time jobs is likely to have been lost globally in the second quarter, tens of millions of them in Asia and the Pacific. Informal and migrant workers, many of whom are women, have been among the hardest hit, losing, on average, 60 per cent of their income. Many of these vulnerable workers will be forced deeper into poverty. Further, COVID-19 is impacting women disproportionately. Evidence shows that several long-standing issues that impede women’s full and equal economic participation in the region are being exacerbated by the crisis, including the unequal share of unpaid domestic and care work, gender-baesd violence, disproportionate concentration of women in low-wage, low-skilled jobs and the informal economy, and an increasing digital gender divide. Moreover, across the region, the wellbeing of children, persons of old age and LGBTI+ persons is being jeopardized. As resources are being allocated to respond to the COVID-19 crisis, environmental and climate justice risk being neglected.

COVID-19 has exposed the vulnerability of global value chains on which so many emerging Asian economies have based their recent growth efforts. Regional and global collaboration is urgently needed to address the economic impacts caused by COVID-19, to avoid social instability and political polarization. Arguably, the world has the means to deal with COVID-19 and its socioeconomic consequences but comprehensive global collaboration is currently lacking.

While lowered emissions and pollution levels have provided a thin silver lining, showing that it is possible to lower emission levels, these benefits are temporary and the crisis risks diverting attention from the climate and environmental challenges of the region. With a looming climate and biodiversity emergency, the region cannot afford for this to happen.

History has shown that a crisis can profoundly shift thinking about how economies are governed, leading to various questions: Will this pandemic open the door to reforms in the global economy? Will it motivate a rethinking of the institutional and policy frameworks and practices that have left countries so exposed to the negative consequences of the crisis? Can rebuilding Asia-Pacific economies in the aftermath of COVID-19 provide an opportunity to reconstruct an ecosystem that is fairer, more sustainable and more resilient, one that also takes into account planetary health? What are the challenges that policymakers in the region face in the aftermath of the current pandemic, including how to ensure that trade and investment regimes leave no one behind? How can more global and regional collaboration be achieved in a time where States are putting their own interests first? With a looming climate and biodiversity emergency, how can States ensure to integrate environmental and social concerns in stimulus packages and policies, to ensure to build back better? And how can the adverse effects of the virus be addressed without sacrificing responsible business practices?


This session will explore the economic, social and political impacts of the pandemic and their consequences for responsible business practices and policymaking in Asia and the Pacific, including the impacts on women, children, migrant workers, indigenious peoples, and LGBTI+ persons, and the need to address environmental and climate hazards. The session will reflect on potential pathways for recovering from the COVID-19 crisis, and discuss opportunities and challenges to accelerate social and environmental justice and rebuild resilient economies in which humans and the environment remain at the centre, and explore how global collaboration can be achieved. With reflections from United Nations leaders and rights holders, and insightful analyses from experts, the session will provide insights from governments, international organizations, national human rights institutions, businesses, civil society organizations and rights holders on how to navigate the response and turn threats into opportunities.

Ms. Sharan Burrow

Sharan Burrow was elected General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) in 2010. She was ITUC President from 2006-10, and before that President of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (2004-06).

Prof. Surya Deva

Surya Deva has been working in business and human rights field since early 2000. He has special interest in developing rights holders-based approaches and exploring ways to hold corporations accountable for human rights abuses.

Dr. Harpreet Kaur

Harpreet Kaur is a Business and Human Rights Specialist at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Bangkok Regional Hub.

Mr. Gam Shimray

Gam A. Shimray is a Naga from North-East India. He is a dedicated human rights activist, for almost 30 years, defending and promoting the rights of indigenous peoples.

Mr. Kaveh Zahedi

Development specialist with extensive leadership experience in the United Nations managing inter disciplinary teams and overseeing integrated projects, programmes and partnerships to support inclusive and environmentally sustainable development.

Ms. Panudda Boonpala

Ms. Panudda Boonpala is the Deputy Regional Director of the ILO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific. Her professional experience covers several areas in the World of Work.

Ms. Valerie Cliff

Valerie Cliff of the United States was appointed as UNDP Deputy Regional Director for Asia & the Pacific in 2017. Valerie served as the UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative for the Republic of Djibouti. Her earlier assignments included senior management roles in UNDP New York, and UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in Kuwait, as well as earlier assignments in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Cambodia.

Mr. Marcoluigi Corsi

Prior to his appointment as Deputy Regional Director for UNICEF East Asia and Pacific Region in February 2020, Mr. Marcoluigi Corsi served as UNICEF Representative in Mozambique and in Bolivia. He has been twice UNICEF’s Deputy Representative, in Indonesia and in Eritrea.

Ms. Sarah Knibbs

Twenty-five years of programme design, management and policy experience in Asia, focusing on gender, women’s human rights and gender-based violence.

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