Human Rights in corporate culture must be urgent priority of governments: UN report

Campaigns and Advocacy, Media Releases article written on the 03 Jun 2008

International aid agency Oxfam is calling on the Rudd Government and corporate Australia to adopt a new human rights framework presented to the UN today (3 June), which urges government and business to “foster a corporate culture respectful of human rights at home and abroad”.
The framework also calls on governments to close legal loopholes and gaps that allow companies to conduct business without respect for human rights while operating overseas, in contrast to the way they operate at home.
“These governance gaps provide the permissive environment for wrongful acts by companies of all kinds without adequate sanctioning or reparation,” the report finds.
Developed by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on human rights, transnational corporations and other business enterprises, Professor John Ruggie, the framework focuses on three core principles that business and government must adhere to:
• the State duty to protect against human rights abuses by third parties, including business;
• the corporate responsibility to respect human rights; and
• the need for more effective access to remedies when human rights abuses have occurred.
Oxfam Australia Mining Ombudsman Shanta Martin said Oxfam had long argued for an end to corporate-related human rights abuses and called on the Federal Government and Australian corporations to implement the framework outlined in the report. Many industries lacked effective grievance mechanisms and communities had no institution that they could access to seek fair and equitable redress.
For the past 10 years, Oxfam Australia’s Mining Ombudsman has been investigating allegations of human rights abuses by Australian mining companies operating overseas, in countries including the Phillippines, Papua New Guinea, Fiji and Peru, with more and more requests coming from further afield.
Ms Martin said while mining, for example, could bring great benefits to a community it could also bring great harm if it was not carried out with respect for human rights.
“We wholeheartedly agree with Professor Ruggie that business is capable of generating economic growth, market efficiency and poverty reduction,” Ms Martin said. “However, these must not be achieved at the expense of people and their rights.
“Our Mining Ombudsman work has shown that host governments do not always provide protection for their citizens against human rights abuse by business and corporations do not always respect the rights of individuals.”
Ms Martin said examples of these abuses included the dumping of mine waste into the waterways that communities depended on for their health and livelihoods. She said Oxfam had also documented complaints of harassment, intimidation and forcible removal from land by local people affected by particular mines.
“While governments of developing countries compete for foreign direct investment and the power of transnational corporations increases, the need for a strong legal and social framework around these issues is becoming more and more critical,” Ms Martin said. “Self-regulation on matters as important as this is, frankly, ineffective.”
To interview Shanta Martin, please contact Laurelle Keough, Oxfam Australia Media Liaison Coordinator – Advocacy & Campaigns, on 0409 960 100