Human Rights

All people have an ethical obligation to uphold the human rights of others, and those who own and operate companies are no exception.

Employment directly affects people's quality of life, and there are standards companies must uphold to protect the rights of workers and others along the supply chain.

Three documents underpin the principles of human rights in international law: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Human Rights is a broad and complex area of corporate responsibility. The prospect of tackling it across the whole of your business, particularly in your supply chain, can be daunting. Sometimes just choosing one area and starting there can get you on your way. For advice, see this guide from the Business Leaders Initiative on Human Rights.

Dead-Set Winners (low cost/effort - every company should do these)

  • Do not discriminate against any of your stakeholders according to nationality, race, colour, language, religion, sexuality, gender, age, disability, social origin, political or social opinion or other status
  • Create a human rights policy statement for your company. For examples try the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre .
  • Acknowledge traditional owners and custodians' connection with the land you are operating on or developing
  • Provide traditional owners with any information relevant to them regarding your operations on the land, and allow them adequate time to assess the information
  • Have equal opportunity and sexual harassment policies in place
  • Be aware, and ensure human resources staff are aware, that they may discriminate unconsciously when viewing job applications. Emphasise that they must look beyond someone's name to their work experience and competence.
  • Declare publicly that you will not tolerate child labour or forced labour in your own operations or in your supply chain
  • Ensure your web site is accessible to people with disabilities (the Victorian Office for Disability provides some useful information on communication here)
  • Ensure your building and toilets are accessible to people with disabilities (the Victorian Office for Disability also provides advice on access)
  • Respect employees rights to practice their religion in public (and their right not to practice any religion at all)
  • Pay your workers a good enough wage to allow them to live comfortably
  • Offer equal pay for work of equal value
  • Provide working conditions that enable your employees to be safe and comfortable
  • Limit working hours and honour workers' rights to holidays with pay
  • Do not infringe workers' rights to join trade unions
  • Do not infringe employees' or community rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association
  • Do not prevent anyone from expressing their opinion, or from seeking or sharing information
  • If you employ security personnel, ensure they are prevented from using excessive force or cruelty
  • Respect copyright of artistic creations and scientific ideas

Good Practice (require moderate investment and will provide moderate return)

  • Recognise where your operations may interfere with traditional owners' access to and use of the land, and work with them to avoid it, or negotiate an acceptable form of compensation
  • If you work with suppliers in countries where there are concerns about human rights, set standards for the operations of those suppliers
  • Ensure products are designed safely and appropriately for the end user (children, for example)
  • When assessing whether human rights have been abused, conduct interviews in workers' own language, and in a space where they feel safe to disclose relevant information
  • Undertake an accessibility audit to see what needs to be done to make your building and your web site accessible to people with disabilities
  • Where possible, purchase fair trade goods and services, and encourage others to do the same
  • Use people with realistic body shapes in your advertising - do not present an image that is unachievable for the average person, or that encourages dangerous weight loss
  • Use a diversity of people in your advertising (try to have it reflect the diversity of the wider community)
  • Insist companies in your supply chain or contractors treat their workers well
  • Monitor your supply chain for child labour and forced labour, and cut ties with operations that refuse to comply. Click here to see the International Labour Organisation's Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work.
  • Provide financial or public support to groups that promote human rights

Cutting Edge (high cost/effort with high returns)

  • Audit your supply chain to ensure human rights are being upheld - you can't promise to pick up every breach, but you can go out of your way to try
  • If you are planning development in an area that has Aboriginal traditional owners or custodians, provide them with resources to assess and report back on the likely impact of the development on their community and the land. For more on corporate responsiblity and traditional owners, see this Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission document.
  • Be willing to negotiate with traditional owners and custodians where negative impacts are identified
  • Provide traditional owners and custodians with a percentage of the financial benefits derived from development or operations on the land

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