Archana Kotecha: Advocating for the Human Rights of Vulnerable Communities through Legal Expertise and Collaboration

The premise of ‘social entrepreneurship’ is people dedicating themselves to a noble cause like helping the needy, poor or marginalized members of their community. They often only share a passion and a willingness to help through money, labour or expertise. They want to improve the situation by realizing tangible and long-lasting changes; generating income is not the main purpose but rather a by-product that allows furthering of these social objectives. In contrast to conventional charitable organizations, social entrepreneurs have the freedom to explore innovative ideas and test these with a view to finding solutions to pressing social justice issues.

In our society today, there is sadly extensive in justice that is apparent in many different ways and that has also made more visible by the pandemic. For example, the prevalence of human trafficking, slavery, debt bondage and forced labour, to mention just a few. At the root of such issues are common causes like faulty or ineffective governance systems, lack of economic opportunities and the growing demand for cheap and unskilled labour in global supply chains. A very vibrant community of stakeholders across the globe have been working tirelessly over the years to address these issues however, the investment into counter-exploitation efforts pales in comparison to the profits generated by exploitation. Much remains to be done!

Archana HeadShot, Founder and CEO, The Remedy Project

In the context of SE Asia,‘Archana Kotecha’ is one of the passionate social entrepreneurs dedicated to upholding migrant workers’ rights. She is the founder and CEO of ‘The Remedy Project’– a group of social entrepreneurs helping the migrant worker communities across SE Asia with respect to understanding and enforcing their rights through worker centred remediation systems. The Remedy Project was established in 2020, in Hong Kong, and is currently working with a variety of clients including NGOs, governments, international aid agencies, private companies, migrant workers and other affected communities. But in fact, this is just Archana’s latest venture – she has been working tirelessly for many years with humanitarian organizations to advocate for the rights of the most vulnerable.

Archana is a lawyer by qualification. She initially began her career as a corporate lawyer. It was a well-paying and comfortable job. But the turning point came after a few years, when she had the chance to directly help improve someone’s circumstances. This experience changed her perspective profoundly and inspired her to explore a career in human rights.  Archana’s approach to lawyering has always been creative and she is known for always pushing the boundaries within her field of work. The Remedy Project provides the ideal platform for her to innovate and work creatively towards addressing fairly pressing exploitation issues in global supply chains in partnership with fellow advocates from across the region and beyond.

Supporting Vulnerable Worker Communities with Dedicated Legal Expertise

“The Remedy Project really is about innovation in accessing remedy using alternative justice mechanisms particularly in the context of complex and fractured supply chains. It’s extremely difficult for vulnerable worker communities to avail justice through traditional means. The asymmetry of power between worker communities and their corporate employers, restrictions on accessing trade union support and the workers’ fear of losing jobs, makes it very difficult for workers to access remedy” Archana explains. 

The Remedy Project is helping migrant workers avail remedy within supply chains by means of a dynamic, proactive and worker-inspired remediation framework. Their underlying vision is powerful: Migrant workers in global supply chains being respected, protected and in cases of harm, having remedies available in a fair, transparent and accessible way. “We leverage our expertise of corporate governance processes as well as human rights to bring stakeholders together. We develop remedial frameworks to identify human rights risks with due care and attention paid  to worker rights and worker specific vulnerabilities. This also helps companies identify potentially serious legal, reputational or financial risks and provides an opportunity to learn about gaps in underlying corporate governance processes that need to be addressed to prevent a recurrence of exploitation. For workers, this give an ability to raise complaints as well as to resolve them, safely, fairly and efficiently using a system they trust,” Archana says. 

The Remedy Project also co-creates healthier working conditions by closely working with businesses, workers and relevant organizations. “It’s early days for us yet and there is much growing and learning that remains to be done. I started out on my own in October 2020. I now have a team of three in Hong Kong and two in Cambodia,” Archana says. Within the organization, they’re predominantly a group of lawyers – a healthy mix of corporate, commercial, litigation and human rights expertise. They’re united towards creating ‘proactive solutions to protect the human rights of migrant workers in global supply chains’. P

Understanding Archana’s Professional Journey

Archana was born and raised in Mauritius. She studied law, political sciences as well as human rights, in prominent UK universities. “I started my career in corporate law in the UK and after seven years, I quite accidentally stepped into the human rights world. My first experience was with the UN Refugee Agency’s Legal Protection Team in London. That was the first time I used my skills and knowledge as a lawyer to help someone vulnerable. It was very fulfilling, intellectually challenging and a space populated by very bright professionals,” she recollects.

Soon, Archana was exposed to her first human trafficking case. This left a lasting impression on her and motivated her to learn more about the crime in order to work on impactful interventions to support victims and address root causes of the crime. Thus, she began her anti-trafficking career in the UK and worked with a number of  organizations in various capacities and across advocacy, policy and legal teams. She eventually moved to Hong Kong with her husband and enjoyed a career break to start her family.

Archana later joined Liberty Shared, a Hong Kong based NGO using law, technology, collaboration and actionable intelligence to disrupt the business of exploitation. For seven years, she immersed well into the SE Asia space creating a human rights practice spanning five jurisdictions and touching upon a healthy mix of policy, legal and advocacy interventions in the counter-exploitation space. “I learned a lot about the South East Asian context and became recognized as a regional expert in human trafficking and forced labour. Soon, I was commissioned to train law enforcement, judges, prosecutors and financial crime compliance staff across the region. As an expert, I have also supported legal cases of victims in many jurisdictions. I have also authored several publications on exploitation and advised a number of governments of the region on human trafficking and forced labour,” Archana says.

“After seven years at Liberty Shared, I was confident to take my efforts even further. Creative lawyering and innovating through new approaches has always been second nature to me. Entrepreneurship is providing me with the opportunity to innovate and reach more vulnerable communities than before. The Remedy Project also allows me the space to be more creative, seek collaborations with more people and truly transform the way migrant workers avail justice,” Archana reflects on the start of her entrepreneurial journey.

Creating a Brighter Future

Archana is recognized as an agent of change in the human rights field, especially in SE Asia. She has been given prestigious awards for her hard work. For instance, she has been named as one of the top ten innovative lawyers of APAC, a strong female changemaker of Asia and an emerging figure in Hong Kong’s non-Chinese population – all by prominent organizations, to mention a few.

Through her journey, Archana has surely faced her share of challenges. But she has learnt a lot too and this made her wiser, smarter and more confident. “For the Remedy Project, the future is growth and collaboration. We strive to tailor remedial services for migrant workers and make real change to working ecosystems. Our belief is that robust remediation systems can work to significantly alleviate exploitation. We will pilot, improve and roll out remedial solutions in different regions of SE Asia. We are also setting up a charitable organization to support grass roots movements and to give legal support to vulnerable workers. Giving back and sharing knowledge is a part of our values. We want to continue to grow our consultancy practice, so we can continue to learn, evolve and collaborate with NGO’s, workers, governments and the private sector. We want that our group becomes synonymous with access to remedy and better working conditions for the most vulnerable,” Archana concludes.