La Trobe means business on human rights (Issue 8, 2012)

Human rightsMarch 29 saw the 2011 Australian of the Year and a member of the UN Working Group of Business and Human Rights present to students, business leaders and academics at the La Trobe-hosted Business and Human Rights Seminar at Melbourne’s Federation Square.

The event, held at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI), looked in-depth at how business can impact both positively and negatively on human rights and what organisations can do to promote good business practice in the area.

Featuring guest speakers Alexandra Guáqueta, member United Nations Working Group on Business and Human Rights and 2011 Australian of the Year, Simon McKeon, the Business and Human Rights Seminar asked whether business and business schools can contribute towards a more just world where human dignity is valued rather than undermined.

Organised by La Trobe Business School Professor Ken McPhail, the seminar featured Ms Guáqueta presenting an overview of the guiding principles on business and human rights, which were recently endorsed and adopted by the United Nations. The endorsement of the principles is widely regarded as one of the most significant developments in corporate social responsibility in the past decade.  

Simon McKeon’s presentation touched on his personal experiences with organisations, many of them doing great work on the human rights front but that are often overlooked.

As Chairman of Business for Millennium Development (B4MD) a group that helps Australian Businesses identify and develop opportunities in developing communities, Mr McKeon assists companies build commercial enterprises with those who are poor, creating pathways out of poverty. 

‘B4MD encourages Australian businesses to operate in the developing world where we can do what we do best and make a difference as well as make a profit,’ says McKeon.  

B4MD has helped create financial infrastructure in remote areas around the world, improving the conditions of local workers and communities.

The seminar complements La Trobe Business School’s educational focus that promotes a culture of linking business performance with social responsibility, La Trobe University was proud to be the first Australian signatory to the UN’s Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME) in 2008.

‘The preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights calls on every organ of society to teach and educate for the promotion of the rights the Declaration contains,’ says Professor McPhail. 

‘However, few if any business schools engage students in any kind of systematic or critical discussion of the relationship between business and human rights.’ 

This inaugural public seminar of the La Trobe Business School begins to explore how the discourse of international human rights is shifting to focus on the responsibilities of corporations in relation to the protection and promotion of human rights. 

For more information on the seminar, visit latrobe.edu.au/human-rights, for information on B4MD visit b4md.com.au.