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Laws needed to protect rights of workers overseas.

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Senator Natasha Stott Despoja Australian Democrats Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs 9 February 2004 MEDIA RELEASE 04/057

Laws needed to protect rights of workers overseas

A new report by Oxfam Community Aid Abroad demonstrates the urgent need to regulate the conduct of Australian companies operating or sourcing products overseas, according to Australian Democrats’ Foreign Affairs spokesperson, Senator Natasha Stott Despoja.

The report, entitled Trading Away Our Rights, was released yesterday and documents the abuse of women workers in the garment industry around the world. It found that many of these women were being forced to work excessive hours for minimal pay and with no sick leave or maternity leave.

Around 60% of garments sold in Australia are sourced from overseas, according to Oxfam Community Aid Abroad’s Executive Director in Australia, Andrew Hewett.

Senator Stott Despoja said that it was time for Australia to stop contributing to this problem and start demonstrating some leadership.

“What this research shows very clearly is that the self-regulatory approach to corporate standards is not working effectively. There is now an overwhelming case for legislative intervention,” said Senator Stott Despoja.

“We need to change the law to ensure that Australian companies lead the way when it comes to upholding labour standards, respecting human rights and protecting the environment.”

Senator Stott Despoja will soon introduce a Corporate Code of Conduct Bill, designed to regulate the conduct of Australian companies operating overseas with respect to human rights, the environment and labour standards.

The Bill will also ensure that Australian companies only source products from companies which observe similar standards.

“The protection of fundamental human rights, of the environment in which we live and of basic labour standards can no longer be left to Governments. Corporations have a vital role to play,” said Senator Stott Despoja.

“This role is being increasingly recognised by the United Nations and other multilateral organisations, and by corporations themselves.

“Although there have been significant advances in promoting responsible corporate conduct in recent years, there is still a long way to go. The Corporate Code of Conduct Bill gives Australia the opportunity to lead the way,” said Senator Stott Despoja.

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