In its National Plan on Business and Human Rights 2017-2020, the Irish Government committed to establishing a Business and Human Rights Implementation Group. The establishment of the group, which is aimed at bringing together government, business and civil society representatives, is considered a “key element” of the National Plan. Due to be established in early 2018, the Implementation Group held its first meeting last week.
The Business and Human Rights Implementation Group has a series of priorities assigned to it based on the three pillars of the United Nations Guiding Principles, but is not responsible for ensuring delivery of the main commitments under the action plan, which rests with the Human Rights Unit of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and other relevant Government departments. The following examples illustrate the responsibilities given to the Group (full list available in the National Plan):
State duty to Protect Human Rights
- 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 civil society and business representative bodies to engage with the united Nations Forum on Business and Human Rights
- Promote awareness of relevant multi-stakeholder and multilateral initiatives such as the UN global Compact, the Principles for Responsible investment and the Children’s Rights and Business Principles among state owned or controlled companies
Corporate Responsibility to Respect Human Rights
- 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.
- Encourage companies and NGOs funded by the state to carry out human rights due diligence as appropriate to their size, the nature and context of operations and the severity of the risk of adverse human rights impacts
- Encourage engagement with human rights reporting standards, such as the UN Guiding Principles Reporting Framework, the global Reporting initiative or the Business Working Responsibly mark.
Access to Remedy
- Engage with business representative bodies to promote and strengthen mediation as a viable option when businesses and their stakeholders are engaged in disputes
- Introduce a standing agenda item to explore international best practice and principles governing the development of operational level grievance mechanisms for individuals and communities who may be adversely impacted to make it possible for grievances to be addressed early and remediated directly
- 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.
The Business and Human Rights Implementation Group is to meet twice a year as a whole, for a period of three years from the time of the appointment of its members by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade. Breege O’Donoghue, formerly Group Director of New Markets and Business Development for Primark, has been appointed Chair.
Minister Simon Coveney spoke at the first meeting and “reaffirmed the Government’s commitment to protecting and promoting human rights both at home and overseas”. He emphasised “the complementarity between the protection of human rights and the promotion of economic growth, trade and investment”, stating that:
Compliance with international standards on human rights is no longer seen as impeding development or undercutting success. Instead, policies and strategies which show due regard to human dignity should be seen as fostering prosperity.
I have been nominated to represent NUI Galway on the Implementation Group, alongside several other academic members, to work with representatives of business, civil society and relevant Government departments in seeking to advance business and human rights in Ireland.
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Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and Tánaiste Simon Coveney provided the Dáil with a brief update on the establishment of the Business and Human Rights Implementation Group on 29 January 2019, in response to a question from Seán Crowe TD:
The establishment of the Business and Human Rights Implementation Group is a key commitment of the National Plan on Business and Human Rights. I am very grateful to have secured the agreement of Ms Breege O’Donoghue, formerly Primark’s Group Director of New Markets and Business Development, to chair the Group, which brings together representatives of 23 organisations, from Government Departments and state agencies, the business sector and civil society, to monitor the delivery of the actions identified in the Plan, including those related to due diligence.
I was pleased to be able to participate in the first meeting of the Group on 16 January. In my opening remarks, I reiterated my conviction that the implementation of the National Plan must be a collective endeavour and the role of the Group will therefore be critical to its success. I was particularly keen to hear the views from the business and civil society representatives and overall I was impressed by the positive and constructive ideas put forward.
To guide the work of the Group, my Department commissioned a baseline assessment on the current legislative and regulatory framework for business and human rights in Ireland from independent consultants, in line with another key commitment in the National Plan. The Group received a short presentation on the draft study and it is expected that a more detailed consideration of its contents, including recommendations for action, will take place at the next meeting of the Group in early April. The document is currently being finalised and will shortly be uploaded to the website of my Department.