Government ignores advice of expert group on business and human rights

AHRCentre Deputy Director and Associate Professor Justine Nolan, said that, “Australia is falling behind other countries in this area. Members of the expert advisory group from business, civil society and academia worked collaboratively to provide the government with practical guidance on how to proceed. It is perhaps not coincidental that once Australia secured its seat on the UN Human Rights Council, government interest in developing a business and human rights national action plan diminished.”

 

Media Release

Human Rights Law Centre | For immediate release: Wednesday 18 October 2017

Government ignores advice of expert group on business and human rights

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has come under strong criticism from members of an advisory group that the Minister established just this year. Members of the Multi-Stakeholder Advisory Group on the Implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights were disappointed that their recommendations have been dismissed outright by the Foreign Minister. 

After extensive engagement, the group (which includes representatives from business, academia and civil society) recommended unanimously in July that Australia should develop a National Action Plan (NAP) on Business and Human Rights, in line with many of its international peers. 

The Plan would have set out a range of policy reforms to implement Australia’s international law obligations in this area and enhance protections for those harmed by Australian business activities. Australia has been criticised by the United Nations for its inadequate regulation in this area and for failing to properly investigate or address serious human rights abuses by Australian companies, including by contractors running its offshore detention centres.

The Advisory Group received a letter from the Foreign Minister late last week advising them that the government was “not proceeding with a [NAP] at this time.” 

Dr David Cooke, Chair and Managing Director, Konica Minolta Australia, said “I would like to applaud the Government on its recent decision to pursue legislation on Modern Slavery in Supply Chains. In light of this it is particularly disappointing, and seemingly inconsistent, that the Government will not proceed with the recommendation of a National Action Plan. Businesses across Australia are looking to the Government for leadership, direction and a framework through which to move forward on honouring their human rights commitments.”

Professor Paul Redmond, a corporations law and corporate governance expert from the University of Technology Sydney, said, “a NAP is simply a policy document setting out a government’s approach to business and human rights issues, and its expectations of business. Adopting a NAP would give sorely needed guidance to Australian businesses in this key area of corporate sustainability, and place them on an equal footing with competitors in international markets.”

Keren Adams, Director of Legal Advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre, said “it is astonishing that only one day into its term on the Human Rights Council, the Australian Government is already walking away from the advice of its own Advisory Group on business and human rights. If it is to have credibility on the Council, the Government needs to lift its game on human rights at home, and to encourage Australian business to do the same”.

Brynn O’Brien, Executive Director of the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility, said, “what is really lacking in Australia is government leadership. This move by the Foreign Minister fails businesses who are crying out for guidance on addressing these complex issues, and investors who are looking for companies to address serious risks. Most importantly, it fails people and communities who are unable to enjoy the full range of human rights due to the impacts of Australian business.”

Associate Professor Justine Nolan, of the Faculty of Law at the University of New South Wales, said that, “Australia is falling behind other countries in this area. Members of the expert advisory group from business, civil society and academia worked collaboratively to provide the government with practical guidance on how to proceed. It is perhaps not coincidental that once Australia secured its seat on the UN Human Rights Council, government interest in developing a business and human rights national action plan diminished.” 

The Government’s move follows the release of two reports in recent weeks showing many Australian companies are not adequately living up to their human rights responsibilities:

·         A report by the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility (ACCR) found that Australian companies, for the most part, fail to adequately respond to human rights risks in their operations and supply chains. On a methodology which scored 23 Australian listed companies out of 100, the ACCR report found that the Australian average score was only 32. http://www.accr.org.au/report 

·         A report by consulting firm KPMG found that the biggest 100 Australian entities by revenue “lag the world on average in acknowledging human rights as a business issue, while less than half recognise climate change as a financial risk in their annual reports.” https://www.businessinsider.com.au/australian-companies-lag-the-rest-of-the-world-when-it-comes-to-corporate-responsibility-2017-10 

The experts called on the government to publicly release the recommendations of the Advisory Group and to reconsider its decision not to proceed with a National Action Plan.

For interviews or further information please call:

Michelle Bennett, Director of Communications, Human Rights Law Centre: 0419 100 519
Associate Professor Justine Nolan, UNSW: 0425 260 496
Brynn O’Brien, Executive Director ACCR:  0423 951 316

Photo crecit : Tomas Ananavicius via Creative Commons.