Oxfam’s Fair Finance Asia Calls on Cambodia and Other ASEAN Member States to Lead in Gender-Responsive and Sustainable Agricultural Financing

Cambodia Investment Review

As Cambodia reflects on its leadership role during its 2022 ASEAN chairmanship, Fair Finance Asia (FFA) and Gender Transformative and Responsible Agribusiness Investment in South East Asia (GRAISEA), both Oxfam programs, have released a new policy brief reiterating calls for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to promote gender equality and human rights due diligence (HRDD) in the agriculture sector.

Released at a side event alongside the Sixth ASEAN Inclusive Business Summit (IB) in Bali, Indonesia, on August 21, the policy brief, “Rights and Risk-Based Due Diligence in Financing the ASEAN Agriculture Sector” builds on a previous policy brief submitted to the Royal Government of Cambodia in 2022, which chaired the ASEAN in 2022. The report emphasizes the urgency for Cambodia and other ASEAN Member States to prioritize gender equality and HRDD in agricultural financing.

Fair Finance Asia Policy Brief Rights And Risk-Based Due Diligence In Financing The Asean Agriculture Sector 2023.

FFA’s Research and Advocacy Advisor, Victoria Caranay,  highlighted the urgent need for financial institutions (FIs) in Cambodia and ASEAN to focus on gender equality and human rights in the agricultural sector. In a Press Release, Victoria said, “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. 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.”

Cambodia Should Reinforce Existing Frameworks

Victoria’s observations align with data from FFA-GRAISEA’s 2022 Harvesting Inequality: The Social Impact of Financial Institutions’ Investments in Asia’s Agribusinesses report, which found that nearly 90% of banks involved in ASEAN agriculture do not share information on their approach to gender issues.

Discussing the Cambodian context, Victoria advised against formulating new policies; instead, she suggested reinforcing existing frameworks. “Cambodia can integrate and strengthen the policies already in place, such as the national policy on green growth. Financial institutions should start with public and high-level commitments to gender equality in their own operations and disclose how they address gender issues in their corporate relationships and investments.”

Read more: Launch Of Khmer Agriculture For The Future Incubator: A Step Toward Climate Resilient Agriculture in Cambodia

Addressing the report’s recommendation for a binding sustainable finance taxonomy, she stated that consistent reporting and public availability of enforcement data are essential. “Alignment with ASEAN’s goals can be assured by ensuring policy coherence between Cambodia’s national sustainable finance taxonomy and ASEAN policies, such as the Sustainable Finance Taxonomy Version 2,” Victoria elaborated.

Bridge & Connect Financial Institutions with Communities

In terms of actionable steps, Victoria pointed to Cambodia’s National Financial Inclusion strategy as a beginning, suggesting the development of sector-specific policies to target women in agriculture. She added, “CSOs and NGOs can bridge and connect financial institutions with communities and ensure that programs reflect a rights-based approach, particularly for women in rural and agrarian communities.”

Read more: Inclusive and Sustainable Growth: Oxfam and YEAC Spearhead Sustainable Business Forum in Cambodia

John Samuel, Oxfam in Asia Regional Director, echoed these sentiments in a Press Release stating, “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.”

Fair Finance Asia Policy Brief Rights And Risk-Based Due Diligence In Financing The Asean Agriculture Sector 2023.

In their new policy brief, FFA-GRAISEA present a comprehensive set of recommendations aimed at urging the Cambodian financial sector and the broader ASEAN community towards sustainable practices that don’t just consider economic indicators, but also factor in gender equality and human rights.

As Cambodia continues to be a key player in the ASEAN community, the policy brief underlines the significance of adopting a gender-responsive approach in financing the agriculture sector. The brief’s insights offer not just a wake-up call, but actionable recommendations for ASEAN Member States and the financial sector across the region. As Cambodia aims to be a regional leader, the question remains is how swiftly it can integrate these recommendations to set a regional standard for gender-responsive and sustainable agricultural financing.

Read the full policy brief here.

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