The United Nations Working Group on human rights and transnational corporations and other enterprises has completed its first country visit to Mongolia and has announced another visit to the United States. The visits allow for further dissemination of the UN Guiding Principles and for the Working Group to assess the impact of business activities on human rights in the particular country. They are conducted “in a spirit of promoting constructive dialogue”, and arise because of the invitations of the States themselves. Some States have been keen that the visits do not lead to “naming and shaming” of companies or countries. A Working Group visit to the United States makes sense, given the significant concentration of global corporate power there.
It was good to see that the Working Group acknowledged the report of the Irish Centre for Human Rights on business and human rights in its assessment of follow up to the UN Framework and Guiding Principles. The Centre’s report had recommended that Ireland invite the Working Group to conduct an official visit to Ireland, which hasn’t yet come to pass. And as the Working Group noted, “the greater majority of Governments have not taken any initial steps towards implementation”. Ireland falls in this category.
The Irish Centre for Human Rights report had also recommended that Ireland address business and human rights in its reports to the United Nations treaty monitoring bodies. As I mentioned in my post for Ceartas, the Human Rights Committee will be examining Ireland in July 2014. The Committee made the following statement in its recent Concluding Observations for Germany:
The State party is encouraged to set out clearly the expectation that all business enterprises domiciled in its territory and/or its jurisdiction respect human rights standards in accordance with the Covenant throughout their operations. It is also encouraged to take appropriate measures to strengthen the remedies provided to protect people who have been victims of activities of such business enterprises operating abroad.
As far as I am aware, this is the first time that the Committee has addressed the subject so directly, following the example of some of the other monitoring bodies. When Ireland’s human rights obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights are considered by the Human Rights Committee next year, it seems inevitable that business and human rights will be raised. The key of course will be ensuring that this is brought to the attention of the Human Rights Committee in the shadow reports prepared by civil society beforehand.