Ireland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Charlie Flanagan, recently gave a statement outlining the Government’s official position on the efforts underway at the United Nations to develop a binding business and human rights treaty. As noted previously here, Ireland voted against the resolution of the UN Human Rights Council establishing the inter-governmental working group with a mandate to advance discussions on a binding instrument, although the Government continues to advocate support for the UN Guiding Principles on business and human rights (but has yet to produce its national implementation plan).
In the Dáil last week, Minister Flanagan was asked by Deputy Thomas Pringle “if Ireland supports the process to develop an international legally binding instrument on transnational corporation and other business enterprises with respect to human rights in the UN Human Rights Council as part of the UN Treaty on Business and Human Rights; and if he will make a statement on the matter”. The Minister responded by reiterating the Government’s support for the UN Guiding Principles and its concerns with the approach of the inter-governmental working group to date (emphasis added):
Ireland is strongly committed to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) which are recognised as the global standard in this area. The Government is committed to the development of a National Plan on Business and Human Rights to give effect to this commitment and in this regard I was pleased to announce publication of the Working Outline of the Plan in December 2015. This was the result of extensive consultation with civil society, business and Government Departments. Following further consultation earlier this year, officials in my Department are currently working to finalise the National Plan. The text of the Working Outline, as well as the contributions received in the consultation process, are available on my Department’s website.
Ireland is not a member of the Inter-Governmental Working Group on Transnational Corporation and other Business Enterprises with respect to human rights, established in the framework of the Human Rights Council, but we are following closely its deliberations. We share the common EU position that the approach of this Working Group, which has a narrow focus on the elaboration of a legal instrument applicable to transnational corporations only, is flawed in that it fails to take into account that many human rights abuses are committed by domestic enterprises. This undermines a fundamental tenet of the UN Guiding Principles, which cover all businesses, regardless of whether they operate in one or more countries.
A further omission is the absence from the Working Group’s work plan of any reference to small and medium enterprises. In many countries these make up the vast number of business enterprises.
These concerns have been shared by the EU with the Chair of the Working Group and we hope that they will be addressed sufficiently to enable our fuller participation in the process.
These is some validity to these criticisms. Nonetheless, they might be more effectively addressed from within the Working Group if Ireland were to join the process than by staying on the outside.