In a statement to the United Nations, Human Rights Law Centre has called on the Turnbull Government to hold companies to account for human rights violations overseas.
Daniel Webb, a Director of Legal Advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre, delivered the statement to the Human Rights Council in response to a report by a UN Special Rapporteur, which was highly critical of Australia’s human rights record.
In recent years, Australian companies have been implicated in a range of human rights abuses overseas from the Samarco dam collapse that has devastated communities in Brazil to land grabs in South East Asia and complicity in Australia’s internationally-condemned offshore detention regime.
The report of the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders recommended the Government develop a National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights and "engage with… business enterprises to uphold their human rights responsibilities and sanction companies associated with violations against human rights defenders".
Keren Adams, Director of Legal Advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre, said it was particularly important that Australia take action to protect communities impacted by Australian business operations in the developing world.
"We cannot leave it to farmers in Brazil or garment workers in Bangladesh to try to hold Australian multinationals to account alone when there are abuses in their overseas operations."
"There is an urgent need for Australia to put in place better oversight of companies’ operations overseas and improve ways for people to raise concerns and seek justice here in Australia," said Ms Adams.
The Turnbull Government last year rejected the recommendation of its own advisory group that it develop a National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights. Ms Adams said in light of the UN’s comments, the Government should reconsider that decision.
"Australia last week pledged to the UN that it would do more to promote human rights globally and implement the Council’s recommendations. Well here’s Australia’s first opportunity to honour that pledge. The Government should now immediately take steps to develop a National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights."
Ms Adams said she believed many Australian companies would also welcome further action and guidance from the Government in this area.
"Companies we worked with on the Government’s Advisory Group on Business and Human Rights were also calling on government to do more in this area. They want clear guidance as to the standards they are expected to apply and a level playing field."
"Some companies are already speaking out strongly on human rights issues ranging from gun control to marriage equality. It’s a shame our government isn’t displaying the same sort of leadership," said Ms Adams.
For interviews or further information please call:
Michelle Bennett, Director of Communications, Human Rights Law Centre, 0419 100 519