Complaints Body for Corporate Human Rights Abuses Needs Overhaul Review Told
25 July 2017 at 12:53 pm
Australia needs a more effective complaints body to investigate corporate human rights abuses, according to the Human Rights Law Centre (HRLC) which has described the current government organisation as having a “dismal record”.
The Human Rights Law Centre has told an independent review into Australia’s key complaints body for corporate human rights abuses, the Australian OECD National Contact Point (ANCP), that the organisation was failing and in need of a major overhaul.
ANCP, which is housed within federal Treasury, is charged with investigating complaints against Australian multinationals by individuals or communities who claim to have been harmed by their activities. It als has the power to make findings against companies and recommend reforms.
In June, the government commissioned an independent review to assess the ANCP’s effectiveness led by lawyer Alex Newton who is an adjunct lecturer in Transnational Business and Human Rights in the Australian National University’s postgraduate law program.
The HRLC submission said: “Unfortunately, the ANCP has a poor record in performing [its] functions. It conducts little outreach, its processes are opaque and slow-moving, it frequently fails to follow important aspects of the guidelines and it evidences a concerning lack of objectivity and due process in the way it handles complaints, with few meaningful outcomes.
“This review provides an important opportunity to consider how the ANCP can be strengthened and turned into an effective redress mechanism,” the submission said.
Director of legal advocacy with the HRLC Keren Adams said it was essential the complaints body functioned effectively, particularly for communities in developing countries.
“This body is supposed to ensure that Australian companies operating abroad are doing the right thing by local communities. For a Colombian farmer pushed off their land by an Australian mining company or a PNG community impacted by illegal logging, there are very few avenues available to them to raise concerns or seek redress,” Adams said.
“In most cases, it is far too expensive for them to take action through the Australian courts.”
Adams said that in 2014 the Human Rights Law Centre lodged a complaint with the body against security contractor G4S Australia regarding its employees’ alleged involvement in the murder of Iranian asylum seeker Reza Berati and injuries to many other people seeking asylum held at the Manus Island detention centre.
“After lengthy delays, the government body ultimately declined to investigate the matter on the basis that it was not its place to comment on government policy,” Adams said.
“The way the contact point handled our complaint… raised serious questions about its objectivity and ability to fulfill its role effectively. It needs a major overhaul and proper resourcing so it can get on with doing the job it is supposed to do holding companies to account.”
She said that to date the ANCP had not issued a single determination against an Australian company, and had dismissed many complaints for spurious reasons, such as because the company refused to engage with the process.
The HRLC submission said the ANCP should be moved into an independent body such as the Australian Human Rights Commission, properly resourced and a new oversight board set up with representatives from civil society and business to oversee its work.
“These reforms are urgently needed to restore the legitimacy of the complaints body and protect vulnerable communities from future harm,” Adams said.
The review is expected to make recommendations to the federal government in September.