Alumni Legacy: Marion advocates for social justice and respect for human rights in global trade

The AASYP Alumni Director, Carly Norman, interviewed Marion Carla Biolena, a supply chain sustainability professional in the Philippines who advocates for social justice and respect for human rights in global trade, and 2020 AASYP Break the Chain delegate. They discussed Marion’s extended career in sustainability, development, and labour/human rights within global supply chains and how the ASEAN-Australian region and youth play an essential role in this area.

Tell us about yourself:

I am a supply chain sustainability professional from the Philippines. I help build the capacity of multinational enterprises to address sustainability issues in their supply chains effectively. I’m particularly interested in finding ways to address labour and human rights risks. 

I develop due diligence strategies and tools that will help prevent and mitigate such risks. So far, I have developed tools for corporate alliances on sustainability and some of the biggest companies in their respective industries. I generally love creating and transforming ideas into knowledge products that can be useful in solving complex issues.

What inspires you?

The world has made remarkable advances in the human rights protection space in the past years. It’s challenging to recognise these developments because they rarely make the headlines, and the impacts aren’t seen immediately. 

When I began nine years ago, we were stuck in conversations regarding the business case for adopting responsible business practices. Now, conversations revolve around ways to effectively implement responsible business practices. In less than ten years, I have witnessed how the field evolved. Companies began forming alliances on business and human rights. We now have a wealth of relevant learning resources. Supply chain transparency laws emerged. Most importantly, notable efforts are being made to provide remediation to those whose rights were adversely impacted by certain business practices. 

I know that there is still much work to be done, but I remain inspired by how the world can become better than we found it. 

How did being involved with AASYP assist you personally and professionally?

AAYSP’s Break the Chain programme helped me connect with peers and other young professionals across Australia and the ASEAN region who are passionate about addressing different forms of modern slavery. Knowing that others take these issues seriously and are tirelessly working to address these issues means a lot to me. The work is heavy and complex because we deal with sensitive issues that don’t often have clear-cut solutions. It is good to connect with peers you can discuss with, learn from, and gain encouragement.

How did your career progress to where you are now?

I have always been fascinated by how things came to be and their origin. I became interested in global trade at University and learned how it disproportionately affects specific populations. I have since been keen on finding ways to contribute to efforts that promote social justice and respect for human rights in global trade. 

After University, I worked for an international non-profit organisation on fair trade. There I first became acquainted with social auditing and capacity-building to help business enterprises improve their adherence to internationally recognised labour and human rights standards. Then, I worked as part of the Responsible Procurement Team of the largest shipping line, Maersk, where I did my professional training in social auditing and started developing due diligence tools. After assessing hundreds of suppliers, I noted recurring findings related to systemic problems. So, when I moved to my current organisation, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) – UN Agency for Migration, I continued to seek solutions to these systemic problems. 

Two years ago, I conceptualised and led the development of the Aligning Lenses Toward Ethical Recruitment (ALTER) project – it aims to help reduce the prevalence of labour exploitation among Filipino migrant workers through digital tools development, capacity building, and developing recommendations for policy reforms. Recognising the systemic nature of issues like labour exploitation, the project adopts a multifaceted approach and is informed by multi-stakeholder consultations and dialogues. The project has led  to the establishment of The Philippines’ National Action Plan on Fair and Ethical Recruitment and has produced human rights due diligence tools for Philippine recruitment agencies and their business partners. I plan to build on what I started and help replicate this project in different contexts. I’m currently overseeing a team in the Philippines, which has grown to include other countries in the region – I’ve been building their technical skills and passing on what I learned from my former mentors and my practical experience.

Where do you see the future of work in this field?

Businesses are paying greater attention to supply chain sustainability, especially with governments mandating supply chain due diligence and sustainability disclosures. The value of ensuring supply chain sustainability was further highlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic. More businesses are beginning to realise the importance of understanding the interplay between operational and supply chain disruptions and certain business practices. For these reasons, the demand for professionals who are knowledgeable in supply chain sustainability has been growing, and I expect it will continue to grow in the years to come. I believe that professionals in this field can play a crucial role in transforming business practices at large as we move forward into a new normal. 

In what ways does the ASEAN-Australia relationship play a significant role?

I believe the ASEAN-Australia relationship can leverage human rights due diligence to help reduce the prevalence of modern slavery through complementing capacity-building programmes. ASEAN countries have been exporting to regions with existing modern slavery risk disclosure requirements and emerging human rights due diligence laws. As these requirements mature, ASEAN businesses must be equipped to perform their due diligence and address relevant risks. Australia can help inform relevant capacity-building programmes for ASEAN businesses based on lessons from implementing its Modern Slavery Act. In turn, Australia can better understand the impact and challenges that these requirements could bring to other supply chain actors, especially those in the lower tiers.  

What unique perspective do you think youth brings or could bring to this space?

We can benefit from diverse perspectives in solving labour and human rights challenges in supply chains. The ability to examine issues from different angles has enabled us to develop great innovative solutions. As one of the youngest members of my previous teams, my contributions relate to how we can make decisions by utilising the wealth of data that we now have at hand and how processes and communication can be made more efficient by leveraging technology. I believe that bringing in diverse groups of people in conversations around sustainability can help accelerate the developments in this space. 

Do you have any words of encouragement or advice for youth interested in developing a career in labour and human rights?

You need to have a strong personal conviction for social justice and in finding ways to contribute to the cause. I decided to pursue a career in this field upon realising how specific systems can deprive some people of their right to decent life quality. 

In terms of building a career, I have grown so much by listening to stakeholders with different perspectives, observing trends, and connecting the dots. As this field evolves rapidly, try to adapt and never stop finding opportunities to learn.

It is also important to believe that a better world is possible. I always come back to this thought whenever I feel lost or exhausted. Building a career in labour and human rights is one thing; sustaining it is another thing – it could be a never-ending journey of learning, serving, and advocating. 

Alumni Legacy is our regular series highlighting the inspiring work of AASYP alumni across the region.

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