The business and human rights agenda has evolved significantly in recent years, and there is now global recognition that business can be a vehicle for the promotion and realisation of human rights. Much of this work has been led by Harvard Professor John Ruggie, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on business and human rights (SRSG) from 2005-2011.

In 2008, the United Nations Human Rights Council welcomed the Protect, Respect and Remedy Framework for Business and Human Rights developed by the SRSG. This framework provided an authoritative statement on the relationship between business and human rights, recognising that while governments have the primary duty to protect and promote human rights, businesses have a distinct responsibility to respect human rights, essentially a “do no harm” standard. It also recognised the importance of access to effective judicial and non-judicial remedy when things go wrong.

In June 2011, the United Nations Human Rights Council unanimously endorsed the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), to operationalise the Protect, Respect and Remedy Framework. These principles provide a global standard for preventing and addressing the risk of adverse human impacts linked to business activity.

Businesses can also play a key role in advancing human rights within their organisations and the wider community. For example, businesses that seek to accelerate gender equality through setting targets or adopting special measures, or promote human rights within the community through education and awareness raising activities.

The Commission has developed factsheets to assist Australians businesses integrate a human rights approach into their policies and practices, and is working with partners to facilitate dialogue on business and human rights issues.

Roundtable on human rights and mega sporting events in the Commonwealth

On 31 October 2016, the Australian Human Rights Commission and KPMG co-hosted a roundtable meeting for business, sporting, government and civil society stakeholders to commence a very important conversation on human rights in mega sporting events.

The roundtable convened more than 70 experts who discussed the challenges and opportunities in integrating human rights in major sporting events in Australia and the Commonwealth more broadly.

Participants agreed that to realise human rights in the context of mega sporting events collective action is required. Stakeholders from a range of sectors should be engaged in order to forge shared solutions to address human rights challenges that are beyond the capacity of any single stakeholder to resolve.

Read more about the Roundtable and human rights and mega sporting events here.

Joint Civil Society Statement on Business and Human Rights

On 25 May 2016, the Australian Human Rights Commission hosted a roundtable meeting for civil society representatives, including non-governmental organisations and academia.

This Joint Civil Society Statement reflects the key outcomes of the CSO Roundtable.

The key question underpinning this Statement is: how are the UNGPs to be operationalised in Australia?

This Statement sets out civil society’s initial recommendations to the Australian Government on the implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights in Australia.

Australian Dialogue on Business and Human Rights

The Commission and the Global Compact Network Australia meet annually with representatives of a number of Australia’s biggest companies, NGOs, government departments, investors and academia to discuss ways in which corporate strategies can be shaped with human rights objectives.

2015 Australian Dialogue on Business and Human Rights

The 2015 Dialogue met with over 100 representatives to explore current practices, challenges and opportunities based on the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. The Dialogue heard from 26 speakers, on the topics of leadership on business and human rights, the business responsibility to respect human rights, access to remedy, and human rights in the supply chain.

Participants agreed that addressing these challenges requires strong cooperation and engagement from all stakeholder groups including potentially more targeted sector-specific work. The stakeholders also committed to engaging with government to consider the possibility of a National Action Plan on business and human rights.

2014 Australian Dialogue on Business and Human Rights

The 2014 Dialogue concentrated on the corporate responsibility to respect human rights, the role of government, access to remedy and grievance mechanisms, bringing a human rights lens to Indigenous engagement and human rights in the supply chain.

The Commission and the GCNA will look to convene further national dialogues in the future.

Additional resources and guidance materials are available to assist business on specific human rights issues.

Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment

The Women’s Empowerment Principles offer practical guidance to business on how to empower women in the workplace, marketplace and community. The Women’s Empowerment Principles were developed through a partnership between UN Women and the United Nations Global Compact. They are designed to support companies in reviewing existing policies and practices—or establishing new ones— to realise women’s empowerment. Over 800 business leaders worldwide support the Women’s Empowerment Principles.

Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick is the Global Co-Chair of the Women’s Empowerment Principles Leadership Group which provides strategic guidance to the Women’s Empowerment Principles initiative.

Commissioner Broderick also guided the establishment of the Male Champions of Change in April 2010. The group brings together some of Australia’s most influential and diverse male CEOs and Chairpersons with the aim of using their individual and collective influence and commitment to ensure the issue of women’s representation in leadership is elevated on the national business agenda. In 2014, The Male Champions of Change partnered with Chief Executive Women to launch a free and simple management model, called ‘The Leadership Shadow’, which aims to help leaders everywhere to listen, learn and lead by understanding the impact of their personal actions.

Business and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Australian businesses can – and do – play a fundamental role in the realisation of human rights by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Many businesses are demonstrating their willingness and commitment to the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and are increasingly using the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (the Declaration) as a basis for their engagement. Recognising the value the Declaration can bring to corporate activities and operations the United Nations Global Compact developed a Business Reference Guide that provides practical guidance to businesses seeking to respect and support the rights of Indigenous people.

The Global Compact Network Australia has also established an Indigenous Engagement Working Group (IEWG) which the Commission is a member of, alongside a number of Australian businesses. The IEWG promotes the importance of positive Indigenous engagement, provides a platform for Australian businesses to share leading practices and collectively advance the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in Australia.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda has discussed the role of Australian business in his 2013 and 2014 Social Justice Reports and has made a commitment to work closely with business in the practical implementation of the Declaration.

Children and Business

Recognising that a child’s rights perspective was missing from the existing business and human rights frameworks, UNICEF, the UN Global Compact and Save the Children released the Children's Rights and Business Principles in 2012. The principles guide business on the full range of actions they can take in the workplace, marketplace and community to respect and support children’s rights. Following the release of the Children’s Rights and Business Principles, UNICEF and the Danish Institute for Human Rights developed a guide to assist business to integrate children’s rights into impact assessments.

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