Irish Human Rights & Equality Commission report to the UN

The Irish Human Rights & Equality Commission has just published its substantial report to the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. There is an obvious focus on the impact of so-called “austerity” measures, with the Commission taking the view that “the burden of the crisis and dominant responses to it has fallen disproportionately on those least able to bear its impacts”. The Commission is to be commended for its thorough assessment of whether Ireland is meeting its obligations under the International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the report will provide authoritative guidance for the UN Committee in Geneva next week.

The report also includes a number of important recommendations regarding business and human rights, drawn from the submission which the Irish Human Rights & Equality Commission has made to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade for its national action plan on business and human rights. The full submission is to be published in due course, but it is worth highlighting the recommendations included in the report published this week:

The Commission considers that the proposed National Action Plan presents a significant opportunity for ensuring that human rights and equality are embedded in the activities of Irish businesses, both at home and abroad, and for the State to outline how it meets its obligations under international law to protect human rights from being infringed by third parties, including business enterprises.

The Commission recommends the establishment of a National Committee on Business and Human Rights comprising representatives from across relevant Government Departments, statutory bodies, civil society and business, with responsibility for monitoring and evaluating progress as well as overseeing the implementation of the National Action Plan. The Commission considers that the ratification of the Optional Protocol to the ICESCR, along with a number of other key international instruments, would strengthen any future National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights which must include a strong emphasis on equality and non-discrimination, in particular gender equality and the rights of women workers.

The need to ensure adequate remedies for victims is a fundamental aspect of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and a key component of a State’s human rights obligations. The Commission recommends that the National Action Plan provides clarification as to how Ireland guarantees an effective remedy for human rights harms involving Irish businesses, whether occurring in Ireland or outside the State. The Commission also recommends that the Irish Government undertakes a thorough review of existing legislation and the operation of State judicial and non-judicial mechanisms to ensure access to an effective remedy and to identify and address any legal, procedural or practical barriers which may exist.

In this report, the Commission to the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights understandably only touches briefly on business and human rights. Once the full submission is made available, we can return to its recommendations in more detail.

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