News & Views

Business and human rights in spotlight at national multi-stakeholder dialogue

(Melbourne, Australia – 31 October 2017)

Over 100 leaders and experts from across sectors will meet today in Melbourne for the fourth annual Australian Dialogue on Business and Human Rights.

The Dialogue, which is a key event on the Australian corporate sustainability calendar, is co-convened by the Global Compact Network Australia and the Australian Human Rights Commission.

Business, government, civil society, investors and other experts will come together to engage on how Australian business can prevent and address their involvement in adverse human rights impacts at home and abroad.

Participants will include over 50 business representatives across a range of industries, highlighting that businesses are increasingly recognising the need to understand and act on their human rights risks.

“Human rights is a business-critical issue for Australian businesses both domestically and overseas and across their value chains. Stakeholders – including NGOs, investors and government – are lifting their expectations of business on human rights issues and engaging with business more actively which we are seeing play out in shareholder resolutions and other advocacy campaigns as well as new policy developments. The Dialogue provides an opportunity for businesses to learn from each other’s experiences and to engage with key stakeholders to better understand and manage their human rights-related risks,” said Alice Cope, Executive Director of the Global Compact Network Australia.

“2017 has been a big year for business and human rights in Australia, from steps towards mandatory modern slavery reporting to more mainstream interest, including from investors and the media, around how Australian businesses are managing their human rights risks.  It has been positive, but not surprising, to see support from Australian business for both policy and regulatory measures, recognising the benefits for business that may come from clearer government expectations, a more level playing field and accompanying capacity building,” said Vanessa Zimmerman, Chair of the Global Compact Network Australia’s Human Rights Leadership Group.

“Discussions like the Dialogue help develop the foundations for this support, facilitating better understanding of how key stakeholders view business responsibilities around human rights and collective discussion on the most effective actions to fulfil them.”

Edward Santow, Human Rights Commissioner said, “We all have an important role in protecting human rights. Successful businesses increasingly focus on long-term sustainability. This involves a business identifying where its operations can have a human rights impact, and working cooperatively with government and civil society to make a positive difference.”

A key development this year has been the Australian Government’s proposal to introduce modern slavery reporting requirements for larger businesses.

“The Dialogue is the leading forum in Australia for business to engage with the challenge of responding to the human rights-related expectations of their stakeholders, which just continue to increase,” said Rachel Nicolson, a Partner at Allens which is hosting the Dialogue. “Business must engage substantively with this issue and the growing legal risks and requirements entailed.”