Human rights and Australian extractive industries in Australia and the Asia-Pacific region: a case study of Rio Tinto's adherence to the construct of corporate social responsibility

Smith, Rebecca Ann (2013) Human rights and Australian extractive industries in Australia and the Asia-Pacific region: a case study of Rio Tinto's adherence to the construct of corporate social responsibility. Masters (Research) thesis, James Cook University.

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In the last two decades, the international community of public and private actors have embraced corporate social responsibility (CSR) as a means of corporate governance by which to mitigate business malfeasance. Resistance from transnational corporations and states has led the United Nations and other multi-lateral organisations like the OECD to promote CSR in lieu of enforcing binding international laws developed to protect human rights and the environment. While both international human rights (IHRL) human rights law and environmental law (IEL) has broad acceptance among most states, many of these states have a poor record of enforcing their obligations, particularly when international human rights and environmental obligations impede the operations of powerful transnational corporations within states' territory. Despite CSR measures, human rights violations and ecocide continue to characterise the operations of many TNCs in many states.

The emergence of neo-liberalism as dominant paradigm of governance in the international political economy since the 1980s has coincided with increased rhetoric about states' commitments to uphold human rights and environmental protection. States have similarly reduced enforcement of these duties. The hegemony of neoliberalism galvanised a counter-hegemonic movement from civil society to try to combat human rights abuses and environmental destruction by TNCs. Civil society demands through NGOs to corporate abuses pose a serious challenge to the neo-liberal market. States and inter-governmental organisations (IGOs) faced with ignoring these demands and losing legitimacy with civil society, or enforcing their statutory and international law duties against TNCs and risk losing their investment and support, found relief in CSR. CSR is a compromise construct that enunciates human rights and environmental protection norms but allows TNCS to choose whether or not to comply under voluntary compliance regimes. CSR does the ideological work of cloaking TNCs in the mantle of good corporate citizenship. Further, TNCs argue that enlightened self-interest compels voluntary compliance with CSR initiatives so obviating the need for compulsory enforcement.

The neoliberal supremacy in state, international and corporate governance also coincides with the greatest growth in the number and power of TNCs, as well as with the greatest decline in biodiversity loss and rise of greenhouse gas emissions, in human history. This thesis therefore argues that current measures to curtail the human rights abuses and biodiversity degradation perpetrated by TNCs are inadequate.

The thesis contrasts Rio Tinto's stated commitment to human rights and environmental values in Australia and the region with its practices. Rio Tinto's commitment to CSR has not resulted in improved universal human rights and environmental outcomes when domestic legislation is weak or unenforced. This thesis extrapolates from the case study operations of Rio Tinto to generalise about activities of less well-known companies operating in a regulatory vacuum in third world states. The thesis concludes that CSR is only conducive to protecting human rights and environmental protection under the glare of publicity and civil society scrutiny as in Australia and is totally ineffective in disciplining corporations' operations in poor or corrupt states.

This thesis studies the activities of the UK-Australian joint listed transnational mining company Rio Tinto in Australia and its three mines the Asia-Pacific region. Rio Tinto is a consistent high performer in national and international CSR reports, promotes human rights activities in Australia and is a foundation member of the United Nation's Global Compact. Many huge mining projects are on Aboriginal people's traditional lands, and until 1995 their relationship was poor. After the Australian High Court held that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders had radical title in Mabo v Queensland [No.2] in 1992, the federal government enacted the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth) to codify Mabo's implications. The new Act was bitterly fought by mining companies for two years, but became a game changer with respect to Rio Tinto's relations with Aboriginal people, with whom Rio Tinto now has positive relations. In contrast, in developing states in the Asia-Pacific such as Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, high levels of official corruption and the legacies colonialism, Rio Tinto's operations are associated with gross human rights violations that are tantamount to genocide and ecological degradation on an ecocidal scale.

Item ID: 33092
Item Type: Thesis (Masters (Research))
Keywords: Asia-Pacific; Australia; corporate social responsibility; CSR; environmental law; human rights law; international law; mining; multinational companies; Rio Tinto; transnational companies
Date Deposited: 12 May 2014 06:54
FoR Codes: 18 LAW AND LEGAL STUDIES > 1801 Law > 180116 International Law (excl International Trade Law) @ 33%
18 LAW AND LEGAL STUDIES > 1801 Law > 180114 Human Rights Law @ 34%
18 LAW AND LEGAL STUDIES > 1801 Law > 180120 Legal Institutions (incl Courts and Justice Systems) @ 33%
SEO Codes: 94 LAW, POLITICS AND COMMUNITY SERVICES > 9403 International Relations > 940304 International Political Economy (excl. International Trade) @ 34%
94 LAW, POLITICS AND COMMUNITY SERVICES > 9404 Justice and the Law > 940499 Justice and the Law not elsewhere classified @ 33%
94 LAW, POLITICS AND COMMUNITY SERVICES > 9404 Justice and the Law > 940405 Law Reform @ 33%
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