Business & Human Rights

All businesses, in all industries, are now expected to respect human rights due to an ever-growing combination of legal obligations, guidance materials and stakeholder expectations.

Human rights are about treating people with dignity. Everyone has human rights, regardless of who they are, where they are from, what they believe, or any other status.

What businesses do, or fail to do, can impact every internationally recognised human right.

Respecting human rights requires businesses to:

  • Avoid causing or contributing to adverse human rights impacts through their own activities, and address such impacts when they occur; and
  • Seek to prevent, or mitigate, adverse human rights impacts that are directly linked to their operations, products or services by their business relationships.

(UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights)

This responsibility to respect human rights is a global standard of expected conduct for all businesses wherever they operate - it applies to businesses in every part of the world, including in Australia.

Why should businesses care about human rights?

The business case for respecting human rights has never been stronger.

Businesses that fail to operate consistently with accepted human rights standards are exposed to various risks, including:

  • Legal risks such as exposure to proceedings, liability, costs and penalties
  • Reputational damage and negative publicity
  • Opposition, criticism and action by stakeholders, such as unions, investors, customers, governments, suppliers, regulators, and the public
  • Issues with workforce recruitment, retention and engagement
  • Business continuity issues
  • Loss of business opportunities

Respecting human rights also allows businesses to operate ethically and to develop as leaders.

Taking human rights seriously is now simply a part of doing business in Australia and abroad.

How we can help

Our human rights experts are leaders in the field.

Our people have substantial human rights experience in commercial settings, in the public sector, in academia, and in civil society.

We can help businesses, non-profits and public sector entities to develop an approach to human rights that integrates seamlessly with their operations, objectives and brand, and which reflects international human rights standards and best practice.

We provide advice and representation in all areas relating to human rights. In doing so, we enable businesses to comply with all of their legal obligations, and to proactively engage with human rights.  In particular, we can assist your business with the following:

Discrimination, sexual harassment and vilification

We are experts in dealing with discrimination claims, sexual harassment claims, and vilification claims in all Australian jurisdictions, including those brought under the general protections regime.

We also provide advice on exemptions to Australia’s anti-discrimination laws, for example, whether a person can be hired based on their lived experience of disability or initiatives to hire indigenous people.

Modern slavery

We help businesses in all industries to respond to their modern slavery reporting obligations in a way that is cost-effective, consistent with their vision, and enhances their brand.

We work with clients at all stages of the modern slavery reporting cycle - from preparing modern slavery statements that satisfy all legal requirements, to providing pragmatic advice on the steps that can be taken ahead of the next reporting period.

Human rights policies

We can work with clients to distil their approach to human rights into a policy that is consistent with international standards and best practice.

Many companies already have workplace policies and codes of conduct that address human rights in effect, without using human rights language (for example, policies on discrimination, diversity, whistle-blowers, bullying, harassment, and workplace health and safety).

We can develop a specific human rights policy that complements and connects your existing suite of policies.

We can also prepare a new suite of workplace policies, or update your existing policies, so that they reflect your approach to human rights, clarify expectations, ensure compliance and minimise your exposure to legal claims.

Advice and representation in relation to human rights law

We have specialist knowledge of human rights legislation in all Australian jurisdictions, including experience in advising clients in relation to the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 (Vic), the Human Rights Act 2004 (ACT), and the Human Rights Act 2019 (Qld).

We also have expertise and experience in international human rights law and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

We offer clients advice on the requirements of these laws and standards, and we can help with managing contraventions if they do arise.

Parent company liability

Parent companies operating in common law jurisdictions, including Australia, increasingly face a risk of liability and public scrutiny for the conduct of their foreign subsidiaries.

We can provide advice and representation to businesses in relation to those risks.

Training and education

We are able to provide market-leading, tailored training in relation to human rights, modern slavery, discrimination, workplace health and safety, bullying and sexual harassment.

Our training can be provided to employees, managers, executive leadership teams and directors at all levels of an organisation.

Human rights due diligence

We can help businesses to bring their human rights commitments to life in a way that is consistent with best practice and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

Businesses can carry out human rights due diligence in order to identify, prevent, mitigate and account for their impacts on human rights.

We appreciate that human rights due diligence will vary for every business depending on its size, risk of human rights impacts, and the nature and context of its operations.

We have the expertise needed to guide clients through the process of conducting effective human rights due diligence that works for them.

Featured thinking

Key contacts

Karl Rozenbergs

Partner and Co-Lead Health & Care

Employment lawyer Karl Rozenbergs advises clients in adverse action claims, on negotiating enterprise agreements and much more.

Alison has more than 20 years’ experience in a wide-ranging employment and privacy practice.

A highly regarded employment lawyer, Fay advises on proactive compliance, discrimination and performance management.

Mark is an employment lawyer experienced in litigious and non-litigious applications of employment and industrial relations law.

Aaron has extensive employment and industrial relations law experience working with clients across a range of industries.

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