UN meeting spotlights companies’ human rights abuse in the Pacific region
27/11/19 - Harriet Wood, Digital Communications Trainee, BHRRC
Forum session and new portal shine a light on environmental and human rights impacts.
Sydney, Australia – Corporate human rights abuses in the Pacific, where exploitation and abuse often receive little scrutiny, will be discussed at the UN today.
The UN session, ‘Advancing the Human Rights Agenda in the Pacific’, is being held in Geneva, Switzerland as part of the UN Forum on Business and Human Rights which will see more than 2,000 leaders, experts and businesses convene in Geneva.
Overseas investment by companies and governments is high in the resource-rich Pacific region. If not done correctly, this investment can harm workers, communities and the environment, with practices such as irresponsible mining and seabed exploitation leading to problems including pollution, loss of livelihood and, sometimes, even death.
Local activists and communities fighting these abuses are hindered by insufficient accountability frameworks and being far away from human rights organisations and company headquarters to raise concerns.
Tevita Naikasowalu, a human rights defender from Fiji, whose activism with the country’s Commission of Ecological and Social Justice focuses on black sand mining, said:
‘While economic development is good, and is vital for any community, the people must be at the centre, their lives and interests. The environment must also be at the centre, because the people depend on the environment. That is what we are asking—that if they are going to do things, put the people, and the environment, and the generations to come at the centre.’
These challenges are illustrated by the case of the Ramu Nickel mine in Papua New Guinea, which has long been accused of environmental damage by local communities, and which earlier this year spilled an estimated 200,000 litres of toxic slurry into the sea.
The mine was closed for less than a week after the incident before resuming operations. Local communities allege food supplies have been contaminated, with authorities imposing a ban on selling and eating local fish and chemical tests indicating presence of heavy metals such as mercury, zinc and manganese.
The UN Forum session coincides with the launch of a new online portal on corporate human rights issues in the Pacific region by the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre. The Pacific Portal will be a hub for up-to-date business and human rights news, with over 700 entries for the region so far, and will amplify the voices of Pacific activists on the ground working to prevent, address and remedy corporate abuse.
Amy Sinclair, Pacific Researcher at the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, said:
‘A bonanza of exploitation is underway in the Pacific. The voices of affected communities, often isolated by great distances and limited means of communication, are going unheard. They have been overlooked by the rest of the world and abuses are going unchecked.’
The portal follows a report in June by the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre on modern slavery in Pacific tuna supply chains, and will be a crucial tool for human rights and environmental rights defenders in the region looking to prevent abuse and improve company practice.
Amy Sinclair, Pacific Researcher (Sydney-based), Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, [email protected], +61 (0) 405 317 023
Adam Barnett, Communications Officer (London-based), Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, [email protected], +44 (0)20 7636 7774