Australia considers joining leading security and human rights initiative

The Australian Government is considering whether Australia should join the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights, an extractives sector initiative that addresses human rights risks associated with the security of companies' operations.

The principles are an international voluntary soft law initiative that aims to address human rights-related risks associated with the security of extractives sector assets. They were developed by participating business enterprises, governments and NGOs to assist companies to maintain the security of their operations within an internationally accepted human rights framework.

As a voluntary standard, the principles are not legally binding. However, participating companies are expected to implement the principles and share information with other participants by reporting at least annually on their progress. This occurs on a non-attribution basis and is subject to a confidentiality regime.

The principles have four key components:

  • Stakeholder engagement: The principles emphasis the importance of engagement with all stakeholders, and recommend that companies consult on an ongoing basis with host governments and local communities.
  • Human rights risk assessment: The principles require companies to conduct human rights risk assessment, and recommend that companies consider relevant political, economic and social factors.
  • Relations with public security forces: The principles encourage companies to communicate human rights policies to public security providers and take steps to ensure compliance with these policies.
  • Relations with private security forces: The principles recommend that companies' expectations of private security providers be reflected in their contractual arrangements.

The principles assist companies to manage a broad range of risks associated with security and human rights-related issues that may present in a company's home or host country. These include litigation exposure, financier issues and project financing risks, shareholder issues and reputational risks. Many companies already use the principles, either as formal participants or otherwise, to manage the human rights risks associated with their security arrangements and also their community relations strategies, and to support local political stability.

The Australian Government is currently considering submissions on the value of joining the principles as a Participant Government in light of the participation criteria. If it becomes a participant,Australiawill be expected to

  • promote the principles and proactively implement or assist in their implementation; and
  • share information with, and respond to reasonable requests for information from, other principles participants (subject to legal, confidentiality, safety, and operational concerns).

By participating in the principles, the Australian Government will strengthen support for the implementation of the principles in emerging economies and developing countries where Australian businesses are active. Broad implementation of the principles will further assist to level the playing field for companies investing in these markets.

IfAustraliabecomes a signatory to the principles, it will join theUnited States, theUnited Kingdom,Canada,Switzerland,Norway, theNetherlandsandColombia, all of which are current principles participants.

Further information about the principles can be found at

Catie Shavin is a Lawyer and member of Allens' International Business Obligations team.