Last month, on international human rights day, the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade published its ‘Working Outline of Ireland’s National Plan on Business and Human Rights 2016-2019’. The document is a draft of Ireland’s national plan aimed at implementing the United Nations Guiding Principles on business and human rights. The Department’s Human Rights Unit has produced a detailed document which aims to:
- Set out the current state of play in Ireland in relation to actions which can be deemed to already assist in the implementation of the UNGPs.
- Set out actions which can be taken over a 2/3 year period in order to further implement the UNGPs.
The aim of the national plan itself is to “inform public and private policy making in relation to the impact of business activities on human rights”. There is considerable emphasis on sharing information, of dialogue and further consultation on business and human rights. The document seems to speak primarily to business, who will be enabled and encouraged to respect human rights in their activities, with little discussion of mandatory requirements or sanctions for harming human rights. The many human rights organisations that contributed to the Department’s consultation will struggle to find their recommendations reflected in this draft national action plan. Business representative organisations have had far greater traction.
The ‘Working Outline’ contains over fifty ‘action points’ which are to form the basis of a “sustained commitment to the Plan by the State”. While some of these relate to promoting awareness of business and human rights or merely restate existing commitments, a number can be considered as offering some form of new or tangible commitment by the Department. Within Government Departments and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the following are proposed:
- The Inter-Departmental Committee on Human Rights will help to monitor Government wide implementation of the National Plan.
- Business and Human Rights will be included as a regular item on the agenda of the DFAT NGO Standing Committee on Human Rights
- Establish the ‘Business and Human Rights Implementation Group’, which will consist of representatives from Government, the business community and civil society, and will meet twice a year to review the implementation of the National Plan over the first three years.
- The ‘Business and Human Rights Implementation Group’ will have on its agenda the need to work toward establishing the principles governing human rights due diligence for companies
- A forum on Business and Human Rights will take place two years after the adoption of the National Plan. This will facilitate the exchange of views on the progress toward the implementation of the Plan and will bring together stakeholders including Government, the business community and civil society.
In terms of potential legislative change (which is not that clearly stated), the following action points are relevant:
- Commission a study to conduct a comprehensive baseline assessment of the legislative and regulatory framework pertaining to business and human rights as it applies in Ireland. Upon completion, the study is to be added to the agenda of the Business and Human Rights Implementation Group for review
- Provide for the insertion of a new Part 26 into the Companies Act 2014 dedicated to reporting payments to governments in accordance with in Chapter 10 of Directive 2013/34/EU (environmental and social aspects of a business)
- Transpose the EU Directive on Non-Financial Reporting 2014/95/EU into Irish law.
- Transpose the European Directive on Public Procurement (2014/24/EU) into Irish law.
- Review how best to ensure remedy for potential victims overseas of human rights abuses by Irish companies, with a focus on barriers to justice, including legal, procedural or financial barriers.
One of the most detailed action points relates to the development of “a practical toolkit on business and human rights for public and private entities”, which is ultimately aimed at providing guidance on business and human rights. It will encourage companies to use the “Business Working Responsibly Mark”, a private sector initiative offered by Business in the Community (which it had recommended in its submission).
The full text of the ‘Working Outline of Ireland’s National Plan on Business and Human Rights 2016-2019’ is available on the website of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, as are details for making submissions on this draft national action plan by 29 January 2016.