In recent years, some of Australia’s most prominent companies from ANZ to BHP have been implicated in serious human rights violations overseas. Australian mining companies have been linked to hundreds of workplace fatalities across Africa, public health scandals in Colombia and Thailand, and environmental devastation in Brazil. Australian banks have been exposed for funding land grabs in Cambodia and Indonesia and Australian clothing companies and supermarkets for sourcing from South-East Asian factories using forced and child labour. Australian private security contractors have been responsible for a suite of violations in Australia’s offshore detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru, including violent assaults, sexual abuse and homicide. Too often, such abuses make temporary headlines in Australia and then quickly fade from public consciousness. Business continues as usual and the communities harmed are left to live with the consequences: poverty, injury, homelessness or loss of livelihood. This report shines a spotlight on ten cases of serious violations involving Australian companies operating in different countries and industries. It tracks the impacts of those violations on local people and their uphill struggle to pursue justice and remedy. These stories paint a devastating picture not only of corporate wrongdoing but also of corporate impunity. In most cases, communities’ attempts to seek justice locally have been thwarted by corruption, poverty or lack of effective law enforcement. Local authorities have in some cases been directly complicit in the violations or compromised by their financial dependence on the business operation. Attempts by communities to take legal action through the Australian courts have likewise faced enormous legal, procedural and cost hurdles and have rarely succeeded. Australia’s criminal laws for extraterritorial corporate human rights violations have never been used, and its only non-judicial grievance body, the Australian OECD National Contact Point (ANCP), is barely resourced and dysfunctional. Australian government action is urgently needed to prevent such abuses, ensure that serious crimes committed by Australian companies or their employees overseas are prosecuted and that communities can obtain justice and remedy in Australia where they cannot do so locally.
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