Australian companies need to be held to account for human rights abuses they commit overseas, but Australia’s complaints system is woefully inadequate and in desperate need of reform.
The Human Rights Law Centre and OECD Watch have today requested the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to investigate the Australian Government’s handling of a complaint against its former security contractor G4S in relation to alleged abuse of refugees on Manus Island.
Keren Adams, Director of Legal Advocacy at the HRLC, said Australia’s OECD National Contact Point, managed by Treasury, has a history of rejecting complaints against companies on spurious grounds.
“When accountability mechanisms fail, injustices flourish. The National Contact Point is a toothless tiger that rarely investigates and has never made a finding against a company. It needs a total overhaul,” said Ms Adams.
The OECD appeal centres around an earlier complaint brought in 2014 against G4S for its role in the violence on Manus in which Reza Berati was killed and 77 other men were injured. A G4S security guard was one of two men subsequently convicted of the murder.
The Australian National Contact Point declined to investigate the complaint, stating that it was not its role to comment on Australian government policy. It also concluded that G4S had limited ability to influence the safety and security of the men in detention, given control of the facility was the responsibility of PNG.
“The handling of the G4S complaint was appalling. We are talking about an incident in which a company’s employees are known to have beaten a man in their care to death and attacked others with crowbars and machetes. For the National Contact Point to have found the matter didn’t even warrant investigating raises serious questions about its credibility,” said Ms Adams.
The appeal challenges these findings as a direct breach of Australia’s international responsibilities under the OECD’s Guidelines. It is the first time a country’s handling of a complaint of this kind has been appealed to the OECD.
Ms Adams said she hoped the OECD would compel Australia to lift its game in its handling of future complaints.
“We are asking the OECD Investment Committee to find that the National Contact Point failed in its obligation to operate accessibly and without bias. Even more importantly though we are asking them to make recommendations as to how Australia can improve this complaints body going forwards,” said Ms Adams.
The appeal coincides with the start of the United Nations Forum on Business and Human Rights in Geneva, where experts from around the world will gather to discuss how governments can better address human rights abuses by business.
Download the HRLC's original complaint here: OECD Guidelines-specific instance-G4S
For interviews or further information please call:
Michelle Bennett, Director of Communications, Human Rights Law Centre, 0419 100 519