In their submission to the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on the development of a national plan on business and human rights, Christian Aid Ireland highlight a number of key issues, including gender, tax justice, human rights in times of conflict and the role of human rights defenders. Despite the considerable momentum generated by the United Nations Guiding Principles on business and human rights, the organisation sets out how:
the failure of states to fulfil their duty to protect human rights has led to much frustration from communities suffering most from human rights violations related to business. In particular those furthest away from the centres of power and decision-making are those most likely to experience violations and those least able to inform the business and human rights agenda as it develops.
Christian Aid Ireland rightly observe that this frustration has furthered calls for the advancement of a UN business and human rights treaty-making process. This is already underway and should be seen as complementary to those efforts aimed at implementing the United Nations Guiding Principles on business and human rights. For such implementation efforts to be meaningful, as the submission emphasises, “respect for human rights by business be firmly grounded in a legal framework, rather than through self-regulation and voluntary initiatives”.
Christian Aid Ireland’s submission draws on several case studies and makes a number of very valuable suggestions on how to embed business respect for human rights. These include:
- Support for staff in Irish embassies abroad by a body like the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission to offer advice to businesses who may have doubts as to whether a particular local law or practice is in conformity with international human rights law
- Ireland should ensure that it provides the necessary guidance to Irish businesses seeking to operate in conflict-affected areas, and refrains from incentivising business in such areas without proper human rights due diligence
- The Irish Government should look to develop its own legislation setting out a mandatory reporting requirement for businesses working with conflict minerals
- Ireland must adopt a coherent government policy underpinned by human rights law in the context of trade and development, ensuring that any investment opportunities for Irish companies also deliver sustainable development outcomes and do not ignore human rights concerns
- Through the National Action Plan, the government must encourage Irish companies to consider the gender impact of their activities in developing countries
- The National Action Plan should emphasise that human rights defenders and other civil society actors have an important and legitimate role in implementing the Guiding Principles.
Given the organisation’s recent conference on human rights and tax and fiscal policy, the submission also highlights the relevance of tax avoidance for the business and human rights agenda. Christian Aid Ireland consider that the Irish government is in “a strong position to lead on developing the link between tax, business and human rights”, and should address tax issues in the national action plan. In particular, it recommends government support for tax transparency initiatives such as publicly accessible country by country reporting and public registers of the owners of companies.
The full Christian Aid Ireland submission is available here.