In a statement made to the current session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, Ireland confirmed that addressing business and human rights issues is now firmly on the Government’s agenda. It states:
Ireland is strongly committed to the implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and is currently developing its approach on how best to formulate a National Plan to implement them. We welcome the report of the Secretary-General on the challenges, strategies and developments with regard to the implementation of the Guiding Principles by the UN system. This is a vital measure, complementary to the implementation activities of States, to ensure that the actions of the UN in fields such as investment and procurement are consistent with the business and human rights standards we have agreed, as well as more generally in our overall efforts to mainstream and embed human rights throughout the UN system.
The Human Rights Council, of which Ireland is a member, has adopted two resolutions addressing the subject of business and human rights. More specifically, these resolutions have addressed to varying degrees the question of elaborating binding legal obligations for companies. Ecuador and South Africa put forward a resolution, in which it is stated that the Council:
Decides to establish an open-ended intergovernmental working group on a legally binding instrument on transnational corporations and other business enterprises with respect to human rights; whose mandate shall be to elaborate an international legally binding instrument to regulate, in international human rights law, the activities of Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises.
Ireland voted against the Ecuador and South Africa resolution, as did various other European countries, as well the United States, South Korea and Japan. 20 votes in favor were sufficient for the resolution to be adopted, but the divide between so-called developing countries and Western countries (home to many of the world’s largest corporations) on this issue is obvious. Norway also proposed a resolution on business and human rights, which contains a softer approach to the question of binding standards, in which the existing Working Group on business and human rights will examine this question further. In the resolution, the Human Rights Council:
Requests the Working Group to launch an inclusive and transparent consultative process with States in 2015, open to other relevant stakeholders, to explore and facilitate the sharing of legal and practical measures to improve access to remedy, judicial and non-judicial, for victims of business-related abuses, including the benefits and limitations of a legally binding instrument.
This resolution was adopted by consensus.
The move towards binding standards is a contentious issue, and it would seem that battle lines between States are now being drawn. The call from a number of developing world states, and backed by many NGOs, is a reflection of the dissatisfaction with the status quo concerning corporate accountability for human rights.