Companies must uphold human rights

AHRCentre Deputy Director, Justine Nolan, writes for the Human Rights Law Centre's If I were Attorney General:

If I were Attorney-General my overall goal would be to develop a greater awareness of human rights amongst all Australians and work towards the language of human rights being an important, but almost mundane, part of our everyday vernacular. I would start by focusing on human rights in the workplace. Australians like to think they are all about a sense of fairness and giving everyone a fair go but the manner in which many Australian companies operate their businesses both at home and abroad belies this concept.

The interconnection between human rights and the corporate sector has been a matter of public debate for several decades now amidst growing concern over the social and environmental impacts of globalisation and the increasingly powerful role played by multinational corporations in the global economy. Despite this debate, and the increased awareness around the relevance of human rights to business, there seems an almost never ending supply of corporate irresponsibility stories (Australian companies included) that demonstrate the need for a holistic approach to addressing corporate rights violations.

In September this year a media expose revealed that children as young as 10 in India were  making Sherrin footballs embossed with the AFL, Auskick, Channel Nine and The Footy Show logos and Canterbury rugby balls. It was revealed that Indian children are skipping school and working long hours – earning less than 12 cents an hour and not more than a dollar a day – to stitch sports balls that end up in the hands of Australian children.

This problem is not just an issue for the corporate sector but also one for the government. The Australian Government should flex its extraterritorial muscles to require companies headquartered in Australia to abide by international human rights standards regardless if their operations are based in Bougainville, Aceh, Mumbai or Guangzhou. The dissemination of the recently developed UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights should be a starting point, but the government should also seek to develop legislation that mandates a human rights due diligence process (essentially a risk assessment process) for all public companies that covers all of the companies’ operations throughout their supply chains whether based in Australia or offshore.

Read the full article here.


Photo: Wikimedia Commons - Child labour in Africa