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Turning Momentum into Action: Respecting Indigenous Australians’ Rights in 2020 and Beyond

Kylie Porter | November 16, 2020

“This is about valuing Aboriginal [and Torres Strait Islander] rights. They are legitimate rights, they’re not a nice-to-have. These are fundamental not only to the social license to operate, but the legality of the way that you operate.” – Karen Mundine, CEO, Reconciliation Australia (2020 Australian Dialogue on Business and Human Rights)

In 2020 we have continued to witness ongoing and systemic racism, discrimination, inequity and cultural harm towards people of colour, including Indigenous Australians. We have heard from Indigenous Australian leaders throughout the year, once again reminding us that elements of our justice system, political system, corporate sector and daily lives continue to operate in opposition to the rights of Indigenous people.

And as we near the end of what has been one of the most challenging, disruptive and unprecedented years that we have collectively experienced, all stakeholders – businesses, governments, civil society organisations, academic institutions and individuals – must raise the level of ambition they commit to and take action to ensure that Indigenous Australians’ rights are built into the fabric of our society.

For businesses, the responsibility to respect the rights of Indigenous Australians is reinforced not only by the increasing expectations from their various stakeholders to do so, but also by the serious consequences, including considerable reputational damage, that can occur should they falter. To meet these expectations and safeguard the sustainability of future business operations, corporate Australia will need to take ambitious action on Indigenous rights. This includes meaningfully engaging with both internal and external Indigenous Australian stakeholders and forming respectful relationships based on trust and transparency.

For many businesses currently juggling a complex crisis landscape of competing priorities, the ask, whilst critically important, might feel overwhelming.

But businesses can use existing frameworks and standards to guide their responses and ensure that they can demonstrate their responsibility to respect human rights, including those of Indigenous Australians. The Global Compact Network Australia, KPMG Australia and the University of Technology Sydney recently launched the Australian Business Guide to Implementing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples which provides a new and unique resource to support Australian businesses of all sizes in their interactions with Indigenous Australians.

Based on the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (a Declaration endorsed by Australia), the Guide also draws on globally recognised standards such as the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) and the UN Global Compact’s Ten Principles to unpack specific rights outlined in the Declaration, suggest practical actions businesses can take to respect and support these rights, and provide case study examples of Australian organisations engaging in this space.

As Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians alike call on businesses and governments to demonstrate authentic leadership and make systemic changes, the time is right to start listening to and engaging with the voices, experiences and teachings of the oldest continuous living culture in the world, so that together we can overcome societal challenges and ensure equality and prosperity for all.

Read the Guide here.

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Kylie Porter

Kylie is a sustainability expert with over 18 years of experience in corporate affairs, sustainability and strategy roles across a broad range of industries. During her career, Kylie has helped numerous companies develop and implement responsible business strategies, managed reputation risk for environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues and wrote and managed policies across various thematic areas including climate change and human rights.