‘Over reliance on voluntary approaches’ – Trócaire’s response to Ireland’s business and human rights plan

Trócaire have published their response to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s Working Outline of Ireland’s national plan on business and human rights. The organisation acknowledges the positive aspects of the document and the consultation undertaken: a participatory process, commitment to a National Baseline Assessment, the wide-ranging scope of the issues highlighted, the prominence given to human rights due diligence, specific references to the issue of gender and Human Rights Defenders, and the outlining of mechanisms for implementation, monitoring and review.

That being said, Trócaire considers that the ‘Working Outline’ follows a trend that is evident in other countries of “an over reliance upon voluntary approaches in NAPs at the expense of introducing mandatory measures”. While finding that there is “much to be welcomed” in this document, from the organisation’s perspective:

there is also an opportunity in the preparation of the next draft of the Action Plan to give more weight to the importance attached within the UN Protect, Respect, Remedy Framework and its Guiding Principles to a “smart mix” of policy responses that includes not only voluntary measures, but also regulatory requirements for business as appropriate; and particularly the inclusion of requirements for Human rights Due Diligence by state owned businesses as a starting point and in order to set a positive example to other enterprise

The submission reviews the various action points of the Working Outline and makes some useful suggestions as to where these could be strengthened. For example, rather than merely committing to “promote awareness” of effective human rights due diligence by State owned or controlled companies, the national action plan should “require mandatory HRDD by state owned or controlled companies, in particular those with a significant overseas presence.” Trócaire also advocates that the Irish Government be more engaged in the process at the United Nations regarding a potentially binding instrument on business and human rights:

It is important that EU member states, including Ireland play a constructive role in discussions within the Inter-Governmental Working Group (IGWG) on the elaboration of such an instrument to ensure access to justice and to effectively stop the occurrence of human rights abuses by businesses.

Amongst the various other issues addressed, Trócaire urges that the national action plan “make explicit the link between tax, business and human rights”. Tax avoidance and evasion should be addressed in the national action plan:

This should include government recommendations to businesses not to engage in aggressive tax avoidance as part of their CSR commitments and human rights responsibilities. The government should also advise that companies negotiating tax incentives do so in fully transparent manner, and in the full knowledge of government departments in the host country. Greater transparency in the tax affairs of multinational companies promotes accountability of both states and companies. The government should actively promote and support initiatives that enhance transparency such as full publicly accessible country by country reporting, and the introduction of publicly accessible registers of the owners of companies.

Similar calls have been made by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, Christian Aid Ireland, Amnesty International and the Irish Centre for Human Rights.

Trócaire’s recent submission is available here.


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