June 23, 2008: Australian parliament passes motion to do more on business and human

Source of Information: 
Oxfam Australia

Media Release

Monday 23 June, 2008

Parliament sends message to businesses on human rights

The Rudd Government's decision to support a vote today in parliament to look at developing measures that prevent the involvement or complicity of an Australian company in the abuse of human rights is a good step forward, Oxfam Australia said today.

The motion put to the parliament today by the Australian Democrats and supported by the Federal Government, the Liberal Party and all minor parties, calls for:

* the development of measures to prevent the involvement or complicity of Australian companies in activities that may result in the abuse of human rights, including by fostering a corporate culture that is respectful of human rights in Australia and overseas; and
* development at the international level of standards and mechanisms aimed at ensuring that transnational corporations and other business enterprises respect human rights.

Oxfam Australia's Executive Director Andrew Hewett said the motion reflects the fact that corporate activity by some Australian companies impacts on human rights here and overseas.

Mr Hewett welcomed the measures suggested by the motion, but said more needs to be done. He said there was an urgent need to develop independent complaints mechanisms that would allow people, particularly those overseas, to raise their grievances and provide a fair process for resolution.

“Some work has been done by Australian corporations over the years to demonstrate a stronger commitment to human rights issues, but too often we continue to see unacceptable double standards between domestic practices and practices overseas,” Mr Hewett said.

“Through our work with communities overseas we are still witnessing situations where basic human rights such as the right to live without fear of harassment and intimidation, and the right to food have been denied because of poor corporate behaviour.”

Oxfam's Mining Ombudsman program, for example, has had a long involvement with the community in Didipio, in the northern Philippines, members of which have complained of intimidation and harassment by Australian company OceanaGold in developing a gold and copper mine in the area. The company demolished people's homes despite persistent complaints by locals about the lack of fairness in the company's processes.

The community in Didipio is currently celebrating a rare win after a recent court order declared the demolition of people's homes by OceanaGold to be illegal because the company did not follow proper legal procedure and due process. "If OceanaGold had a system in place to listen to and fairly resolve community complaints, the community may not have needed to get to the point of taking it to court,” Mr Hewett said.

The Australian Government's engagement on this issue comes after the release earlier this month of a landmark report on business and human rights by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on human rights, transnational corporations and other business enterprises, Professor John Ruggie.
Professor Ruggie proposes a framework based on the principles of ‘Protect, Respect and Remedy'. The report draws attention to the duty of states to protect against human rights abuses by third parties, including businesses operating overseas, the corporate responsibility to respect human rights, and the need for more effective access to remedies. Professor Ruggie found that there was a growing acceptance of the need for company home states, such as Australia, to take regulatory action to prevent abuse by their companies overseas.