The Australian OECD national contact point: how it can be reformed

Human rights International relations International cooperation International agencies Australia
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The Australian National Contact Point (ANCP) is a non-judicial human rights mechanism. Because the mechanism is non-legal, it provides freedom to act in a way which promotes human rights due diligence amongst Australian business and address breaches using novel problem solving and mediation techniques.  The ANCP is charged with implementing the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises (Guidelines).  These are perhaps the best developed standards and procedures internationally for providing guidance to business about how to do the least harm possible and act with integrity. The ANCP presents an easy way for the Australian Government to promote sound human rights practices amongst Australian business. There are clear models for best practice developed by other NCPs across OECD countries.  The ANCP already exists – there is no need to create an entirely new institution – it simply needs improvement.

The ANCP is particularly important because it is the only avenue for redress for many communities and individuals affected by Australian business outside our national borders. Australia does not have a legal framework that specifically regulates the human rights obligations of Australian corporations overseas. Communities and individuals who live in jurisdictions with weak legal systems or those plagued by bias and corruption face great barriers to accessing justice in their own countries against companies domiciled in Australia.  The ANCP is a transnational human rights mechanism that allows grievances to be addressed in accordance with international human rights norms. Given its central role in the Australian human rights landscape, it is vital that it offers effective redress.

Based on a thorough analysis of all the cases the ANCP has considered, the report finds that the ANCP is presently failing to follow the Guidelines. This means that the Australian Government is missing an important opportunity availed to by its membership of the OECD to promote good human rights practices amongst business and remedy problems when they occur. This report suggests 23 changes the ANCP could implement to improve its practices.  These are not big changes, but they would make a world of difference to communities who are negatively impacted by the actions of Australian business. 

None of the reforms recommended will make the desired difference unless the ANCP is adequately resourced and sufficiently independent.  This requires dedicated staff with the necessary expertise to apply the Guidelines and navigate often complex disputes.  It is unfair to expect staff without the necessary expertise and resources to address disputes which have occurred in other countries, with complex and long histories, involving some of Australia’s largest companies.  Likewise, it is unfair to expect staff located within government without sufficient authority or independence to address cases involving government, placing them in conflict with their primary duty to government. 

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