Closing The Gap on Business and Human Rights

Human Rights Pulse Article by ALRC Legal Officer Tess Van Geelen

In early September, the second revised Draft of an international treaty on business and human rights was released by a working group established by the UN Human Rights Council (the OEIGWG). At regional and national levels, a number of states have also taken decisive steps towards better regulating the human rights impacts of business. Despite these promising developments, however, recent controversies – such as Rio Tinto’s destruction of the sacred 46,000 year old Juukan Gorge rock shelters in Western Australia – have given new urgency to the need for more effective regulation of the human rights impacts of business.

In a recent report, the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) recommended that the government introduce a ‘failure to prevent’ offence for certain transnational crimes that may be committed by corporations, including slavery, human trafficking, and crimes against humanity. The ALRC further suggested the Australian Government should review the broader business and human rights framework, and consider mechanisms such as human rights due diligence in order to give full effect to the state’s obligations under international human rights law. This article outlines the ALRC’s recommendations in light of international treaty developments and the Juukan Gorge tragedy, highlighting the urgent need for substantial reform in this space.