The Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility (ACCR) and the Refugee Advice and Casework Service (RACS) have co-filed a shareholder resolution calling on Qantas to stop deportations and removals to danger of asylum seekers and refugees.
ACCR filed the shareholder resolutions last month in preparation for this year’s AGM. ACCR and RACS have cited issues of concern including “deportations and removals, where the risks of irreparable harm are most acute; this concern relates to a distinct group of refugees and asylum seekers denied a proper legal process to make claims to refugee status in Australia; and transporting people between places of indefinite detention (both onshore and offshore), where complicity in human rights violations is all but assured.”The resolution seeks to amend Qantas’ constitution to permit shareholders to “express an opinion, ask for information or make a request about the way in which a power of the company partially or exclusively vested in the directors has been or should be exercised.” It has also filed a second resolution asking the board to “commit to engaging a heightened due diligence process in relation to any involuntary transportation activity it is involved in as a service provider to the Australian Department of Home Affairs.”
Shareholder resolutions are a way for individual shareholders to talk directly to the boards of publicly listed companies. To be put to an annual general meeting, a resolution needs 100 shareholder signatures. ACCR has used the shareholder resolution format to raise awareness for a number of issues, particularly climate change, at AGMs in recent years.
“Our concern is the business risk to Qantas over the activities relating to deporting or forcibly transferring people as part of a service agreement with the Department of Home Affairs,” said Brynn O’Brien, ACCR executive director. “There are a number of different areas of work that are of concern to us. One is the risk of [Qantas’] involvement in adverse human rights activities. … These kinds of forced types of involuntary transportation look similar to people being under arrest – we have reports of people surrounded by security guards, in handcuffs. That is a risk to the people who are being transferred, that their human rights are being violated. Also, there are risks to Qantas airline workers – the risks of them being caught up in a physical altercation. There are also the moral harms to people that are quite traumatising – that is a risk to pilots, flight staff, and passengers in that system as well.”
There is also potential brand damage as well, O’Brien said.
“Obviously for a company whose brand is so material to its value, those things are significant business risks to Qantas,” she said. “It’s hard to think of an activity that’s more misaligned to Qantas’ family friendly reputation.”
ACCR and RACS notes that other airlines around the world are refusing to deport people to danger – in June 2018, six US airlines announced their refusal to participate in transporting children who have been separated from their families at US borders. Also in June , Virgin airlines in the UK announced that it would ‘end all involuntary deportations on [the Virgin Atlantic] network’, from August 1, 2018, while in the UK, Germany and Israel individual pilots have refused to personally participate in forced deportations.
Qantas has recommended that shareholders vote against the resolutions, saying “the board considers that if a specific shareholder group perceive a benefit in the adoption of international regulatory approaches into Australian company law, these groups should seek regulatory reform from the Australia government, rather than proposing changes ot the Constitutions of individual companies on a piecemeal basis. However, given existing shareholder rights enshrined in Australian company law.”
Qantas also said that government and courts are the best place to make decisions on immigration status.
“The Directors acknowledge the complexity of Australia’s immigration policy and the societal interest in its broader implications. It is our firm position that the Government and courts are best placed to make decision on the legal immigration statuses of individuals seeking to remain in Australia.
“Where individuals have been the subject of an application to remain in Australia that has been denied, it is not the roe of airlines or private enterprise to further adjudicate on these proceedings, particularly as information used in determination processes is not publicly available. To do so would undermine the Australian Government, the judicial system and their processes. This view is supported by the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human rights …”
O’Brien disagreed with Qantas’ reasoning.
“We think it’s important for Qantas to manage business risk,” she said. “It’s not a shield against those risks to say, this is a government responsibility. It would be doing absolutely nothing about immigration – it would be making a decision about business risk. The Australian government does, where it is unable to find commercial flights, it does charter planes, and we say that Qantas should have nothing to do with that. It makes no business sense for the risks of those activities to be pushed onto Qantas and Qantas’ shareholders.”