Amnesty International Ireland on human rights, business and trade

Amnesty International Ireland has made an important submission to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in relation the ongoing foreign policy review. Taken together with the other submissions that I outlined last week, it shows an ever-growing concern by civil society in Ireland with issues of business and human rights. That includes, of course, the activities of Irish companies overseas, and the directly related issue of trade promotion by the Irish Government. Amnesty tackles these subjects and the Government’s approach to them in its submission:

it is vital that the review makes it unambiguously clear that Ireland will not allow its economic interests to trump its responsibility to promote and protect human rights, on either bilateral or multilateral fronts.

Colm O’Gorman, Amnesty’s Executive Director, has publicly expressed his concern regarding the Government’s failure to raise human rights concerns during its recent trade mission to the Gulf, describing it as “a significant and worrying development”. Those concerns are reiterated in this submission. As he put it to Minister Bruton, Ireland cannot “outsource” its human rights diplomacy to the United Nations or the European Union.

Business and human rights merits “express attention” in the foreign policy review according to Amnesty. In particular:

Ireland should commit to ensuring that the activities of Irish-based companies investing in third countries or engaged in business there (including through their subsidiaries, supply chains and key business relationships) do not infringe, or contribute to infringing, upon human rights.

A first step in this regard would be the adoption of a national implementation plan for the United Nations Guiding Principles on business and human right. Ireland has not done this so far, but as Amnesty explains in its submission:

consideration is currently being given by the Irish Government as to how to address the Guiding Principles and how best to go about formulating its national plan for their implementation. We understand that Government Departments will be examining how best to take this forward in the coming period.

Part of the delay in adopting an Irish national implementation plan on business and human rights may be because it cuts across a variety of areas and thus requires the involvement of several Government departments. Amnesty’s submission notes that the UN Guiding Principles “cover a range of issues which span the policy responsibilities of a number of Government Departments and agencies”. Clearly the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation have a role to play here, in addition to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. I have noted previously that the trade mission to the Gulf was lead by the former, and the attitude shown towards human rights by Minister Richard Bruton in that context, would not seem to bode well here.

As with a number of other submissions to the foreign policy review which addressed human rights and business, Amnesty International Ireland have asked that the foreign policy review “give some general outline of Ireland’s plans to develop … a national implementation plan”. In addition to the specifics of a national plan on business and human rights, it calls on the Department to explain it its review how:

business interests and human rights can – and in fact must – go hand in hand.

Ireland lags well behind other countries in terms of advancing the business and human rights agenda. The Government has been asked by the United Nations Human Rights Committee to provide information in the coming months as to how it ensures that Irish companies operating overseas respect human rights. Amnesty International Ireland have added a strong voice to the calls by Irish civil society that the foreign policy review be used to clarify and elaborate upon Ireland’s approach to human rights and business as a matter of priority.

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