WeCan (Canterbury based human rights’ watchdog) challenges Government lack of transparency, preventing citizens’ human rights’ abuse claims being heard, and calls for an immediate overhauling of New Zealand’s only ‘business and human rights’ redress mechanism, the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.
Never heard of the New Zealand National Contact Point (NCP)? You are not alone. It is one of the New Zealand’s government’s best kept secrets that it houses a transnational human rights mechanism charged with hearing cases under the Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. Tucked away in MBIE, it is barely resourced, and operates with conflicts of interests – it sets the earthquake building rules, whilst also assessing allegations insurance and construction companies involved in the rebuild are causing human rights breaches.
Communities and individuals can lodge claims with the NCP, a quasi-judicial mechanism charged with implementing the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises in New Zealand (Guidelines). The New Zealand NCP is particularly important because it is the only avenue for redress for many individuals affected by the actions of businesses involved in the Canterbury earthquake rebuild. Unlike Europe and the USA, New Zealand does not have a legal framework that specifically regulates the human rights obligations of multinationals.
According to Sarah O’Brien a spokesperson for WeCan, the NCP in New Zealand is failing. Sarah stated that since WeCan started filing human rights claims, the NCP has;
- Refused to investigate the large number of complaints involving EQC and Southern response, claiming government owned organisations are not covered by the Guidelines (even though other OECD countries include the activities of government owned business).
- Taken years to progress complaints. To-date not one claim has been finalised since the first was filled by WeCan in 2013 (despite a stated 12 month’s timeframe).
- Let businesses ‘off the hook’ for causing or contributing to human rights breaches, by claiming they were only following the instructions of a government organisations (i.e. EQC).
According to Steve Patterson, an International human rights defender with WeCan, the NCP performance is unacceptable, and is failing to achieve its mandate under an international legal instrument signed by the New Zealand government.
Sarah O’Brien however, welcomes the recent Arrow International agreement to publish a human rights policy statement, and commit to undertake due diligence to monitor the human rights impacts of their business activities, following complaint lodged under the Guidelines See https://fl-arrowinternational-media.s3.amazonaws.com/uploads/2017/03/Social-Responsibility-Policy.pdf, and call’s on other construction companies involved in the Canterbury rebuild, such as Fletcher EQR to follow Arrows example. WeCan also welcomes the NCP’s draft assessment allegation that a major New Zealand insurance company had breached the complainant’s human rights, as being material and substantiated. We continue to witness alleged human rights abuse to citizens post-quakes.
Post-floods, earthquakes and mining disasters, the system as it presently performs, does not allow citizens to have these alleged abuses properly investigated, and those responsible held to account in-line with the OECD agreement signed by the New Zealand Government. “The Status-quo cannot continue” Ms O’Brien states.
However, at a time when New Zealand continues to experience natural disasters, WeCan considers it is essential that the New Zealand NCP be strengthened immediately.
WeCan calls for the immediate strengthening of the New Zealand NCP to:
- Improved independence of the New Zealand National Contact Point
- Proper allocation of resources to fulfil its OECD mandate, and
- The commitment to include the activities of the government’s own business entities, under the Guidelines.
If you would like further information about WeCan, please visit www.wecan-nz.com