Indigenous Customers Exploited: Report | The standard

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Businesses continue to take advantage of low levels of financial literacy among Indigenous customers, a parliamentary committee has warned. An interim report by the House of Commons Aboriginal Affairs Committee on how businesses interact with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander consumers found that despite high-profile cases, poor corporate behavior was still practiced by financial services and telecommunications. Although the committee has yet to make any formal recommendations, members said financial advice services in remote communities should be better resourced. “The work of financial counselors is essential in ensuring that individuals, particularly in remote communities, can be supported and helped to end financial and emotional trauma,” the interim report released Tuesday said. “In the financial sector, the operation of payday lenders and certain auto loan financing transactions were of deep concern to the committee.” It comes after Telstra was fined $50million for exploiting indigenous customers in 2021, after the telecom giant signed more than 100 people to contracts they didn’t understand or couldn’t afford. Despite the heavy fine imposed by Australia’s consumer watchdog, the committee said ‘unacceptable’ sales practices were still taking place towards Indigenous customers. “Evidence presented also indicated that many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across the country are experiencing financial hardship due to telecommunications debt,” the report said. “Upselling of products that were not needed was cited as a component of this. Corporate behavior in opposition to community expectations needs to be addressed.” The report also discussed the reconciliation action plans managed by Reconciliation Australia. Action plans allow organizations to integrate the principles of reconciliation into their activities. While more than 1,000 businesses have signed up to the action plans since they were launched in 2006, the committee said it needed to be more than just a “tick-mark exercise” for business. The committee said that even organizations that had signed a plan, such as Rio Tinto, had carried out actions contrary to reconciliation, such as the destruction of Juukan Gorge. “A reconciliation action plan document is therefore not sufficient on its own. A reconciliation action plan must become and remain an integral part of business practices at all levels,” the report states. The committee did not issue a full report or make any formal recommendations due to the short time available to it before the end of the current legislature, as well as travel restrictions related to COVID-19. Australian Associated Press


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