【Certified ESG Analyst Insights Sharing】 Ericson Lee, CESGA

The World Benchmarking Alliance – Allies Assembly in Bangkok from June 10-13, 2024 provided a crucial platform for global stakeholders to come together and share insights on the role of business in achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). As a Certified ESG Analyst (CESGA) representing Friends of the Earth (HK), it is my honor to attend this premier sustainability conference and gaining firsthand perspectives on the progress, challenges, and collaborative efforts underway. The 4-day program, covering critical issues such as social challenges in supply chains, the evolving role of investors in driving sustainability, and the pressing need to develop globally accepted ESG standards and frameworks. The insights gleaned from this assembly offer valuable lessons and a roadmap for businesses, investors, policymakers, and civil society organizations to accelerate progress towards a more sustainable and equitable future.


Social Issues in Supply Chain

Southeast Asia plays a pivotal role in the global supply chain, especially in food and marine products. The environmental and social status of this region requires urgent attention due to small-scale, dispersed suppliers with low education and technological adoption, leading to challenges in supply chain engagement and data collection. The fishing industry, dominated by small-scale suppliers, is problematic in terms of human rights violations[1], with weak law enforcement and ineffective whistleblowing mechanisms.

Just transition in the supply chain is also critical, ensuring fairness while pursuing environmental and social improvements. Small-scale suppliers may face increasing production costs to meet sustainable standards, impacting their vulnerable income and living conditions. Participants proposed collaborative efforts from large companies, governments, and NGOs are essential. Companies must ensure fair profit distribution, invest in sustainable practices, and support small-scale suppliers with tailor-made education and technological assistant.

NGOs are working for human rights and support vulnerable communities on-site, like The Labour Protection Network (LPN) combating human trafficking in the fishing industry. LPN operates centers for migrant workers, investigates wage disputes, and provides legal services. Raising awareness and educating employees is crucial, as victims may be unaware of their rights. LPN faces challenges such as fake documents, difficulty reaching small-scale supplier employees, and accusations of damaging Thailand’s image. The organization advocates for transparency in supply chains and data sharing but struggles to obtain compensation and evidence for long-term cases involving workers on boats.

During our visit to LPN, government representatives emphasized the importance of private sector support reaching those in need and enforcing laws. Collaboration between ministries, police, and trade unions is crucial for social welfare and whistleblowing. The ministry partners with NGOs to provide education, training, and facilities for victims, but comprehensive mechanisms and law enforcement to protect migrant labor are insufficient.

Stewardship and Engagement

Foreign investors play a pivotal role in driving sustainable development through the effective utilization of their shareholder power. Participants in the discussion emphasized the significance of finance in unlocking sustainable business opportunities in Asia, highlighting the evolving skills and knowledge required for effective stewardship. Institutional investors are increasingly adopting a proactive approach, engaging with companies as collaborators to drive meaningful changes in sustainable development practices. Rather than simply divesting from companies, investors are holding them accountable to develop and implement real transition plans. Given that Asian companies tend to be less open to engagement compared to their Western counterparts, investors are encouraged to leverage shareholder resolutions and co-file with NGOs to amplify their influence.

Initiatives such as Climate Action 100+ have made significant progress in persuading companies to make net zero commitments and improve their governance and disclosure practices. Investors are gradually shifting their emphasis from mere compliance and disclosure to integrating sustainability commitments into the core business strategy of the companies they invest in. Additionally, there is a growing recognition of the importance of addressing social issues, as investors understand the impact of these issues on economic systems and company performance.

Transparent and globally comparable standards and frameworks are essential for engaging stakeholders effectively, particularly when addressing complex social issues such as wages and inequalities. By adopting a comprehensive approach that encompasses both environmental and social considerations, investors can play a vital role in shaping a more sustainable and equitable future for businesses and communities alike.

Allies in Action Discussion – Addressing the Gap in ESG Standards and Frameworks

At the Allies in Action session, I was invited to co-lead a table discussion on addressing the gap in “Standards and Frameworks”. The primary issue is the absence of globally accepted reporting standards that align with global agendas, resulting in a lack of transparency and comparability of ESG performance among companies.[2]

Challenges identified for this topic such as lack of primary data, standardized quantifiable units of measurement, and consensus on ESG concepts and expectations due to diverse cultures and values across countries and sectors.

Participants suggested collaboration and communication on unified standards and frameworks, also making them more layman and accessible to ordinary people. However, reporting standards for corporates should be detailed and formal as it is a legal obligation, while performance metrics and scores can be easily understood and comparable by the general public despite the risk of “Black box”.

Establishing a globally accepted reporting standard for ESG disclosure is just the first step towards meaningful sustainability practices. The real challenge lies in developing a performance standard that drives actual change and improvement. While reporting standards ensure comparability, they do not guarantee active efforts towards better ESG performance, as seen with the slow improvement in lifecycle assessment despite the ISO 14040 standard being the sole internationally recognized framework for this issue.

Developing a globally accepted performance standard is significantly more difficult due to the subjective and context-specific nature of ESG issues. Achieving consensus requires the active participation and buy-in from diverse stakeholders with different priorities and concerns. Nevertheless, a robust and widely accepted performance standard is essential for driving meaningful change, ensuring credibility and effectiveness of ESG practices, and creating a level playing field for companies to compete on ESG performance.


While ESG and sustainability have made significant progress, there are still numerous areas that require improvement. The Allies Assembly in Bangkok provided a valuable platform for stakeholders from various sectors to collaborate and share insights. The conference highlighted the critical social issues faced by small-scale suppliers deeply embedded in supply chains, emphasizing the need for immediate action. Investors are increasingly leveraging their influence through engagement and stewardship to drive meaningful changes in sustainable development practices. However, the key to achieving consensus and establishing globally accepted standards and frameworks for ESG reporting and performance setting lies in collaboration. By fostering partnerships among diverse stakeholders, including companies, governments, NGOs, and investors, we can work towards addressing the complex challenges in the ESG landscape and create a more sustainable and equitable future for all. The Allies Assembly served as a catalyst for fostering partnerships and accelerating collective action towards a more sustainable and equitable future.

Article is written by EFFAS Certified Environmental, Social, and Governance Analyst (CESGA). CESGA is highly recognized in Europe and globally which has been steadily increasing in the worldwide. If interested in enrolling, please refer to https://bit.ly/3tFUQ1M

[1] https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/01/23/thailand-forced-labor-trafficking-persist-fishing-fleets