Australia sends strong message to mining companies: respect human rights

Campaigns and Advocacy, Media Releases, Mining, News article written on the 12 Dec 2012

The Australian Government has sent a strong message to mining companies that they must help rather than harm the communities in the countries in which they operate, Oxfam Australia said today.

Oxfam Australia has welcomed yesterday’s announcement that Australia intends to join the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights, the only human rights framework designed specifically for the mining, oil and gas industries.

The Voluntary Principles were established in 2000 and have the support of mining companies, NGOs and governments including Canada, the US, the United Kingdom, Norway and Netherlands.

Oxfam Australia’s mining spokeswoman Serena Lillywhite said Australian mining companies had a responsibility to protect human rights, even in the most challenging of circumstances.

“In recent years, Australian companies such as Anvil Mining, OceanaGold, BHP Billiton and Arc Exploration Limited have been caught up in allegations of human rights violations in their operations overseas,” she said.

Hundreds of Australian mining companies are active overseas, including in countries of Africa and the Asia-Pacific region, with many prone to violence, conflict and instability.

According to Ms Lillywhite, the UN Special Representative for Business and Human Rights had identified the extractives sector as the worst for cases of corporate-related human rights abuses – frequently as a result of misconduct by security forces seeking to secure company assets and property.

“The recent case of South African police opening fire and killing 34 striking miners at the Lonmin platinum mine is an example of what can happen if companies don’t get it right,” Ms Lillywhite said.

“Maintaining the safety and security of their operations while ensuring respect for human rights is a challenge for mining companies, and the Voluntary Principles can assist companies to meet that challenge.

“BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto have now signed on to the Voluntary Principles.”

“We welcome the move by the government, and hope that its participation in the Voluntary Principles will encourage all Australian mining companies to meet their human rights obligations,” said Ms Lillywhite

The Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights provide a framework for companies to

Conduct an assessment of human rights associated with their security arrangements

  • Engage properly with public and private security providers
  • Promote best practice relevant to human rights and security
  • Develop company systems for reporting and investigating allegations of human rights abuses

For interviews or more information, please contact Oxfam Australia media coordinator Chee Chee Leung on 0400 732 795 or