Human Rights Watchdog to Put Corporations on a Leash
27 June 2018 at 5:37 pm
A pack of “watchdogs” has descended on Parliament House to call for a human rights watchdog to protect women’s rights and put corporations “on a leash”.
The event, held on Wednesday, marked the launch of ActionAid Australia’s campaign to shine a light on the need for women and communities, who have had their rights violated by Australian corporations overseas, to have access to justice.
According to the global justice organisation there is significant evidence that the activities of Australian corporations operating overseas are linked to women’s rights violations.
ActionAid Australia head of policy and campaigns Lucy Manne told Pro Bono News the Australian government had a responsibility to ensure corporations respected and upheld human rights “no matter where they operate”.
“Unless women have access to justice, abuses of their rights may go unscrutinised and the companies involved will continue to act with impunity,” Manne said.
“What we’re really concerned about is that at the moment, in the situation where a human rights violation does occur, there is nowhere that these communities can bring complaints to have them considered in Australia where the actual company is headquartered.
“That’s what the human rights watchdog would do.”
Manne said a human rights watchdog was especially important in addressing the human rights violations women faced as a result of mining.
ActionAid Australia’s research has shown women bear the brunt of the worst impacts of mining including impacts on their access to land; their livelihoods and food security; their health and safety and an increased burden of unpaid care work.
The aim is to establish an independent watchdog that is multi-stakeholder and has powers to investigate proactively and recommend a range of remedies to ensure companies “are doing the right thing and have a deterrent for violating human rights in the first place”.
“Some of those things might be paying compensation in some situations to the community and it could be stopping activity,” Manne said.
“Of course the first step is always mediation, and making sure of that power dynamic between a really large multinational mining company and local women in a community, but then if needed to go further and to actually be able to recommend some penalties.”
Manne said a similar initiative had recently been introduced in Canada.
She said the hope was that it could spark “a race to the top”.
“I guess the reason we think it’s quite powerful is that Australia actually has the second largest global mining presence in the world in terms of the number of companies,” she said.
“Canada is just above us. And so Canada has gone and done this. They want to make sure that companies are being responsible when they’re mining in low income countries and we’d really like to do the same. Then you may see a race to the top situation where other governments start doing the same thing as well.”
Speaking about Wednesday’s event Manne said it was a “fun way to introduce a serious message”.
“You can’t go wrong with dogs,” she said.
“We’ve had a really positive reception. I think that it’s something of a new area for some politicians, it’s not something that gets talked about in the halls of Parliament every day. I guess that’s why we’re here.
“We’ve had a lot of politicians take a pledge to support increased access to justice for these women.”