Qantas’ participation in the Australian government’s refugee and asylum seeker policies is under increased scrutiny with a group of shareholders considering formal AGM action.
This follows the release of an expert statement signed by a number of business, human rights and union groups and individuals, which notes that ‘airlines should engage a heightened due diligence process’ to ensure they do not contribute to human rights abuse by facilitating deportations, removals and transfers. Signatories to the statement include Janet Holmes à Court, barrister Jennifer Robinson, Thomas Keneally AO and Professor Gillian Triggs.
Australia’s current refugee policies allow refugees and asylum seekers to be sent to serious danger, or held in detention indefinitely. This system has been rightly condemned by multiple UN bodies for failing to uphold international human rights standards.
Brynn O’Brien, Executive Director, Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility (ACCR) said: “We will be calling on Qantas to commit to ending its involvement in the toxic refugee policies of Peter Dutton and Malcolm Turnbull. Virgin Atlantic has already indicated their cessation of deportation activity in the UK and we are hopeful that Virgin Australia will follow suit.
“Shareholder action is under active consideration and we are recruiting Qantas shareholders to join us. Institutional shareholders are interested in and closely following this issue, and we expect a strong vote if it goes to resolution at the Qantas AGM this year.
“Business relationships that associate a company with the abuse of refugees and people seeking asylum constitute material legal, reputational and financial risk. The large percentage of Australians who believe that human rights obligations should be complied with is a core customer base which no reputable airline can afford to ignore.
“Investor and community sentiment has mobilised before against companies who make it their business to profit from the government’s brutal policies. One need look no further than the fate of detention contractor Transfield to see the negative effect that commercial involvement in human rights abuses can have on a company’s ability to attract investment, finance and contracts.
“We are not talking about business as usual here. We are talking about airlines facilitating, for profit, a system which is out of step with international law and exposes men, women and children to persecution and violence.
“For a company like Qantas whose brand is so material to its value, it is extremely risky to take on contracts that expose its brand to association with a system that violates human rights.
Keren Adams, Director of Legal Advocacy, Human Rights Law Centre said: “The Australian government’s refugee policies have been internationally condemned as putting lives at risk. Businesses, including airlines, that actively facilitate and profit from this system are complicit in abuse and risk exposing themselves to serious reputational liability.”
Sarah Dale, Principal Solicitor, Refugee Advice and Casework Service said: “The human rights of refugees and people seeking asylum are no longer adequately protected by Australian law. In fact, recent changes mean that the Migration Act now deliberately ignores Australia’s international obligations.
“Over the last 12 months we have seen an increase in returns of people in violation of international legal standards. We have seen fathers separated from their children and people removed without a proper assessment of their protection claims; these are direct contraventions upon the right to family, the rights of the child and the right to seek asylum.
“At RACS we have seen cases where people are entitled to protection of their rights under international law, but they can be returned them to harm under Australian law. The gap between Australia’s actions and its international obligations requires urgent attention.
For interview contact:
Michelle Bennett, Director of Communications: 0419 100 519
Photo Credit: Flickr - BriYYZ