Any company that’s operating in Australia, especially in the case of transporting individuals consensually or non-consensually, ultimately that’s something that any company should be very clear about its disclosure to its shareholders,” human rights advocate Jacob Thomas told SBS News.
The campaign to pressure Qantas mirrors similar campaigns in the United States and the United Kingdom, where some major airlines have refused to fly deportees.
In Australia, Virgin and the unlisted private company Skytraders also fly asylum seekers at the request of the Department of Home Affairs.
Last month Qantas chief executive officer Alan Joyce told the National Press Club the company was right to take a stand on social issues, such as same-sex marriage.
But today the chairman of the Qantas board Richard Goyder called on shareholders to vote against the proposed review.
“We need to be clear on this matter, the federal government is best placed to make decisions on the legal status of people seeking asylum, not airlines,” he said.
Michael O’Faraday, who was representing his shareholder wife, said the debate was an important one.
“The issues that were raised today were very important, I think they go beyond corporation issues, they are government issues,” he said.
Another shareholder, Andrew, who only wanted to give his first name, said he was largely unaware of the debate.
“I’m interested in the airlines and what part they play in the whole issue in Australia, but I wasn’t aware there was so much contention,” he said.
Despite the motion receiving the support of less than 24 per cent of shareholders, activists say they will continue their campaign.