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New report recommends more action to prevent human rights harms in business sector

Business and Human Rights
A busy street crossing with dozens of people walking back and forth, as seen from above.

The Australian Government, businesses and institutional investors have been called on to take more action to prevent business-related human rights harms.

At the Crossroads: 10 years of implementing the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights in Australia, a new report from the Australian Human Rights Commission and the Australian Human Rights Institute at UNSW Sydney, examines the implementation of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) in Australia.

“The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights are the recognised global standard for States and business around preventing and addressing business-related human rights harms,” said Emeritus Professor Rosalind Croucher AM, President of the Australian Human Rights Commission.

“These principles were unanimously endorsed by the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2011. The Australian Government co-sponsored this resolution at the United Nations.”

Read At the Crossroads: 10 years of implementing the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights in Australia.

June 2021 marked the 10-year anniversary of the unanimous adoption of the UNGPs by the United Nations Human Rights Council. These principles, which set expectations for governments and businesses are increasingly being incorporated into law, policy and business practice and standards globally.

Professor Justine Nolan, Director of the Australian Human Rights Institute said: “Australian businesses and government must walk the talk and accept the need to remediate harms so that there is accountability for business related impacts wherever they occur.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the inequalities at the heart of the global economic system and has pushed those that power our global supply chains into further precarity. The pandemic has highlighted the need for stronger social safeguards and a people-centred approach to business.”

Professor Croucher said: “There is still a significant gap in translating human rights policies into practice.

“While the report highlights some key areas of progress, including the introduction of modern slavery reporting laws and the strengthening of Australia’s OECD National Contact Point complaint mechanism, much work remains to be done.”

The report considers a range of key human rights issues in the Australian business context, including combating modern slavery, addressing the adverse human rights impacts of climate change, respecting the land rights of First Nations Peoples and ensuring victims have access to remedy. The report also considers the key role of institutional investors in driving business respect for human rights in the market.

The report sets out recommendations for Government, business and investors on steps they can take to substantively implement the UNGPs. It calls on business and institutional investors to implement the UNGPs by carrying out human rights due diligence to identify and address human rights risks in their activities, supply chains and portfolios.

The report also suggests a range of policy and legislative updates that could be introduced by the Australian Government including strengthening Australia’s Modern Slavery Act 2018 (Cth) and legislating for mandatory human rights due diligence by companies. It incorporates the views of a wide range of Australian stakeholders drawn from business, investment sector, academia, unions and civil society.