Qantas refuses to commit to UN guiding principles on human rights

26 October 2018

It was a circus at the Qantas annual general meeting (AGM) in Brisbane today. Following protests outside the meeting, Australia’s flagship airline faced a shareholder resolution lodged by the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility. It called on Qantas to stop assisting in the deportation of asylum seekers and refugees. The airline also had to answer a slew of climate related questions.

Under fire from human-rights groups

Qantas has recently faced agitation from groups who believe the company is complicit in human rights abuse under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. At the AGM today it was clear Qantas did not think it was to blame for the use of its aircraft in asylum seeker and refugee deportations, instead passing the buck onto the Australian government. Chairman Leigh Clifford all but dismissed Qantas’ voluntary commitment to the UN principles, reiterating that the company will “continue to comply with the laws of Australia.” Watch the video:

A question of climate

Climate change was another hot button issue at the meeting. Although it does acknowledge the general risks posed by global warming, the airline is yet to release any detailed scenario analysis that breaks down its financial resilience under different climate-related scenarios.

Given that Qantas is in the transportation sector – which is classified as at ‘high-risk’ from the financial impacts of climate change – and that it recognises the risks posed by climate, the decision to do scenario analysis should be an easy one. Unfortunately, the airline has failed to make any firm commitment, only a vague ‘intention’ to do so next year. 

Emissions reduction 

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently issued a dire warning that, for the Great Barrier Reef to have any chance of survival, warming must be kept to 1.5 C.

As Australia’s flagship airline, carrying thousands of passengers to this wonder of the natural world, you’d expect Qantas to have a moral and financial interest in ensuring the reef continues to survive.

However, despite publicly setting a target to halve them by 2050, the airline’s net emissions are on the rise. Qantas also emits more carbon dioxide per passenger-kilometre than any other airline operating across the Pacific Ocean, home to the reef. 

At this point we’re yet to see any indication that Qantas is serious about fighting global warming. And that’s despite strong financial incentives: an airline can reduce its fuel costs by approximately $225 USD for each tonne of CO2 it avoids emitting.

It seems like Qantas’ current model of operations is under scrutiny from all angles, maybe next year we’ll see more climate risk disclosure and action on human rights from the airline. 

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