Irish Government misses first key target of national business and human rights plan

Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade launched the National Plan on Business and Human Rights 2017-2020 on 15 November 2017. The National Plan is aimed at implementing the 2011 United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. To oversee implementation, the Department committed to establishing a Business and Human Rights Implementation Group, describing this as a “key element” of the National Plan. 

The Business and Human Rights Implementation Group is to be made up of representatives from Government, business and civil society, who will meet twice every year for three years. A series of actions have been prioritised for the Group, which will itself be “responsible for developing timeframes for delivering and reporting on each of the actions which have been assigned to it”. The fifteen discrete actions fall under the three pillars of the UN Guiding Principles (state duty to protect, corporate responsibility to respect, and access to remedy) and include:

  • develop a practical toolkit on business and human rights for public and private entities within 12 months to assist them in their human rights due diligence
  • encourage and support awareness of effective human rights due diligence by state owned or controlled companies
  • encourage business representative bodies to provide examples, templates and case studies to help support companies in their efforts to develop human rights focused policies and reporting initiatives
  • 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.

Membership of the Group was to be announced “within three months of publication of the national plan”. This has not happened. Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Simon Coveney explained why in the Dáil this week:

Work is underway to establish the Group and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is liaising with stakeholders in this regard.   A key priority is to identify an individual with a strong track record in the promotion of human rights in a business environment to chair the Group.

As regards a national baseline assessment of the legislative and regulatory framework concerning business and human rights in Ireland, the National Plan included a commitment to have this completed within six months of the plan’s publication. When asked by Seán Crowe TD on this component of the National Plan, the Minister answered, somewhat vaguely, that “[p]reliminary work has also been undertaken to commission a baseline assessment which will complete a comprehensive study of the legislation and regulatory framework pertaining to business and human rights as it applies in Ireland”.

Ireland dragged its heels on developing a national action plan in the first place and the National Plan was subject to criticism in various respects when it was eventually published. Missing a key target like the establishment of the Business and Human Rights Implementation Group does not bode well for advancing the various actions laid out in the National Plan. 

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