Abuses assessed in ASX leaders
A new report has plotted human rights risks in the operations and supply chains of 23 ASX-listed companies.
BHP Billiton was rated as as the highest scoring company in Australia and globally, while agriculture performed poorly.
BHP scored of 77 out of 100 on the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility’s (ACCR) Human Rights Report, while Newcrest and Rio Tinto were ranked second with a score of 66.6 per cent, compared with a sector average of 36.6 per cent.
Other major local employers Wesfarmers and Woolworths scored 19.4 per cent and 16.6 per cent respectively, while Graincorp was rated at 5.6 per cent.
The report classifies both Wesfarmers and Woolworths in the "agricultural industry" sector, despite their involvement in a broad set of industries, and the fact that they do not directly own agricultural land.
Both says they have made effort to ensure ethical sourcing in the apparel industry, which the ACCR does not account for in its methodology.
The release of the report comes just before annual general meetings season, aiming to make human rights issues a hot topic politically and among investors.
Shareholder activists are also expected to use this AGM season to push retail and super funds to be more ethical.
ACCR has teamed up with the National Union of Workers and the $5.6 billion LUCRF super fund to file a series of shareholder resolutions ahead of AGMs in coming weeks.
Woolworths has agreed to file resolutions and allow a shareholder vote, while Wesfarmers rejected them.
The first resolution calls for Wesfarmers and Woolworths to amend their constitutions to allow member resolutions at AGMs.
The second resolution relates to human rights issues in the retailers’ operations and supply chains.
It calls for human rights details to be made available, including the nature and extent of consultations with human rights assessors.
The process will involve proxy advisers and groups like the Australian Council of Superannuation Investors (ACSI), which works within listed companies on environmental, social and governance issues on behalf of its 37 members (which collectively manage more than $1.6 trillion in assets).
“Reputational risk and the potential for supply chain disruption extends beyond direct employees or direct contracts. We look for companies to go well beyond 'tick the box' legal compliance,” ACSI's Ed John told reporters.
Meanwhile, NUW national secretary Tim Kennedy has written to Wesfarmers chairman Michael Chaney saying; “As you are aware the NUW is a co-filer of the resolutions with the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility regarding the assessment, reporting and remediation of adverse human rights-related risks throughout the Wesfarmers operations and supply chain.”
Mr Kennedy said Wesfarmers told him that the resolutions would not be listed, raising more questions the voting status of shares held by Wesfarmers' employees.
Wesfarmers said that for the notice to be valid under the Corporations Act, it must be given by 100 “members” entitled to vote at a general meeting of Wesfarmers – a threshold the ACCR fails to meet.
“It is wrong to say that employees do not have voting rights while the shares are in trust, as the employee has the right to direct the trustee how to vote on their behalf on any resolutions at general meetings,” Mr Kennedy said.