Summary: Torres Islanders’ have won a legal case involving climate damage and their right to enjoy culture and family life, opening up yet another avenue for legal challenge on human rights. We think this Australian case, especially when taken in the context of other examples, is part of trend that could make the direct impact of human rights breaches on future value generation much more visible.
Why this is important: This case, especially when taken in the context of other examples, is part of a trend that could make the direct impact of human rights breaches on future value generation much more visible. It also opens up interesting new avenues in terms of grounds for litigation against any entity which causes environmental degradation or does nothing to prevent it.
The big theme: There are many mandates that operate human rights exclusions, so for breaches deemed material, the investment cannot be made, or the position must be sold. That’s clear and easy. It’s all the other mandates where the challenge arises. Putting it rather bluntly, to make decisions about generating the required investment returns, investors need to be able to connect human rights breaches with some form of either share price decline or a deterioration in future value generation potential. We are heading for a situation where first countries and then companies, will see a very tangible negative financial impact if they don’t consider these issues in detail. And this goes deep down into their supply chains.
Summary of a story from ABC.net:
During the September 2022 session the UN Human Rights Committee found that Australia violated the rights of Torres Strait Islanders' to enjoy culture and family life. The joint complaint was filed by eight Australian nationals and six of their children. All are indigenous inhabitants of Boigu, Poruma, Warraber and Masig, four small, low-lying islands in Australia’s Torres Strait region. The Islanders claimed their rights had been violated as Australia failed to adapt to climate change by, inter alia, upgrading seawalls on the islands and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
In their complaint brought to the Committee, the Islanders claimed that changes in weather patterns have direct harmful consequences on their livelihood, their culture and traditional way of life. The Islanders indicated that severe flooding caused by the tidal surge in recent years has destroyed family graves and left human remains scattered across their islands. They argued that maintaining ancestral graveyards and visiting and communicating with deceased relatives are at the heart of their cultures. In addition, the most important ceremonies, such as coming-of-age and initiation ceremonies, are only culturally meaningful if performed in the community's native lands.
Let's take a look at why this is important...