Australian ethical investment body ACCR plans resolution at Qantas on deportations

ACCR is rallying investors to back a planned shareholder proposal at listed flagcarrier

The Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility (ACCR), the not-for-profit association promoting ethical investment, is rallying investors to back a shareholder resolution with listed flagcarrier Qantas over its involvement in deportations by the Australian government.

It argues that without the implementation of safeguards, the airline is exposed “to the probability of complicity in serious human rights violations” which – moral concerns aside – could have a “material” impact on the company.

In its draft resolution, the ACCR raises the “material reputational, financial and legal risk” Qantas is exposed to through its participation as “a service provider to the Australian Department of Home Affairs…in activities which expose us to the probability of complicity in serious human rights violations”.

To mitigate this risk, the draft resolution calls on Qantas to develop a “heightened due diligence process”.

It also calls for a comprehensive board-level review of Qantas’s processes on the issue, followed by a public report on the review’s findings, which should be conducted “prior to any further involvement in removal or involuntary transportation activity”.

A spokesperson for the ACCR told RI it is getting “close” to the 100 shareholders it needs by Friday (24 August) to file the resolution.

Risks around deportations are particularly acute in Australia, the ACCR argues, due to changes in the law around the country’s “non-refoulement obligations”, which came into effect in 2014. As a result, the ACCR says Australian legal system “can no longer be relied upon to ensure compliance with international human rights law in this area”.Non-refoulment is a fundamental principle of international law that refugees or asylum seekers should not be forced to return to a country in which they are liable to be subjected to persecution.

Bill Hartnett, Head of Sustainability at Local Government Super LGS), the A$11bn (€7bn) Australian superannuation fund, told RI that LGS is “aware” of the proposed resolution at Qantas but that it will “not be co-filer”.

He said: “We still need to do more research on the issue of involuntary transportation activity as well as Qantas’ management of the issue” and that this “would determine whether we would support the resolution, should it actually proceed to be voted at the AGM which will be held on 26th October”.

A spokesperson for Australian Council of Superannuation Investors (ACSI), which aims to “provide a strong, collective voice on environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues on behalf of our members”, told RI that it had “no comment on this issue at this time”.

In June 2018, UK-based carrier Virgin reportedly
announced that it would end all involuntary deportations across its Virgin Atlantic network (from 1 August), following the fallout from the Windrush Scandal, which saw the wrongful removal of British citizens by the UK Government.

In the same month, four US airlines – American, Frontier, Southwest and United – also reportedly refused to fly children separated from their parents by the US Federal Government, as the scandal around Trump’s treatment of undocumented people hit the headlines.

Qantas has not responded for comment at the time of writing. The ACCR states in the draft resolution document that its attempts to meet the company on this issue were rejected.