Australia needs an effective complaints body to investigate corporate human rights abuses

Australia needs an effective complaints body to investigate corporate human rights abuses

Australia’s key complaints body for corporate human rights abuses is failing and in need of a major overhaul, the Human Rights Law Centre has told an independent review.

The Australian OECD National Contact Point (ANCP), housed within Treasury, is charged with investigating complaints against Australian multinationals by individuals or communities who claim to have been harmed by their activities. It has the power to make findings against companies and recommend reforms.

However a recent independent report, found the body is currently under-staffed, under-funded and has a dismal record in carrying out its functions. In June, the government commissioned an independent review to assess its effectiveness.

Keren Adams, Director of Legal Advocacy with the Human Rights Law Centre, said it is essential the complaints body functions 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. In most cases, it is far too expensive for them to take action through the Australian courts,” said Ms Adams.

In 2014, the Human Rights Law Centre lodged a complaint with the body against security contractor G4S Australia regarding its employees’ 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.

“The way the contact point handled our complaint about grave human rights abuses by G4S 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” said Ms Adams.

To date the Australian OECD National Contact Point has not issued a single determination against an Australian company, and has dismissed many complaints for spurious reasons, such as because the company refuses to engage with the process.

The HRLC says the Australian OECD National Contact Point 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,” added Ms Adams.

The Human Rights Law Centre’s full submission can be found here.

For further comments or queries please contact:

Michelle Bennett, Director of Communications, Human Rights Law Centre, 0419 100 519