The human rights challenges and opportunities facing business in the Asia-Pacific region were the focus of the 6th annual Australian Dialogue on Business and Human Rights held in Melbourne today.
More than 130 leaders from Australian businesses, academic institutions, investors, civil society and government gathered for the Dialogue, which was convened by the Australian Human Rights Commission and the Global Compact Network Australia.
Kylie Porter, Executive Director of the Global Compact Network Australia, said today’s Dialogue “highlighted the diverse challenges that companies face in respecting human rights in Australia and the region”, while also providing businesses with practical solutions to addressing those challenges.
“The focus of this year’s Dialogue on the Asia-Pacific region recognises the importance of the region as a major trading partner for Australia,” Ms Porter said.
“The case studies and insights that we heard today provide a strong foundation from which businesses can consider how they will identify and respond to their human rights risks, whilst also engaging with a broad range of stakeholders, including civil society, to manage these risks.”
The Dialogue included a range of speakers drawn from business, civil society and academia in Australia and the Asia-Pacific region, including keynote speaker Debbie Stothard, Secretary-General of the Bangkok-based International Federation for Human Rights.
“Intensifying threats to human rights and the environment are exposing serious gaps in the way business is done, especially in due diligence, mitigation and remedy,” Ms Stothard said.
“The Dialogue is a valuable opportunity to explore how Australian business can contribute to a resilient and sustainable future for the natural, economic and political ecosystem that all of us live in.”
The 2019 Dialogue included sessions on business’ leadership role in meeting human rights challenges in the region, improving company operational grievance mechanisms, working with human rights defenders, empowering women and girls through business, navigating governance challenges and the relationship between climate change and human rights.
Commission President Emeritus Professor Rosalind Croucher said this year’s regional theme was fitting given many Australian companies were looking at their supply chains in the Asia-Pacific as part of their response to the federal Modern Slavery Act’s requirements.
“Globalisation has brought opportunities but also many challenges for human rights, including growing inequality,” Professor Croucher said.
“As Australian companies increasingly operate across borders with ease, we need to think about human rights impacts, not just at home but also abroad.”
The annual Dialogue is designed to enhance knowledge, explore continuing challenges and encourage collaboration to support business respect for human rights, including through implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs).