CERD asked to examine Ireland’s obligations concerning racial discrimination in light of Irish business practices

Ireland is due to appear before the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in Geneva at the beginning of December to review its compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. In advance of the meeting, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has made relevant documents publicly available, including the various submissions received from Irish civil society organisations. Direct provision, trafficking, discrimination against Travellers, hate speech, climate injustice and the treatment of migrant workers feature prominently in the various submissions.

Although Ireland’s country report makes no explicit reference to business and human rights, submissions from the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission and the ‘shadow report’ prepared by the Irish Centre for Human Rights (to which I contributed) highlight how Irish companies or businesses with operations Ireland may be connected with violations of human rights and the prohibition of racial discrimination. The submissions serve to reiterate the insufficiency of Ireland’s efforts in this area to date.

The submission by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, Ireland’s national human rights institution, focuses on the burning by the ESB in its power plants of coal imported from the controversial Cerrejón mine in Colombia (which has previously been mentioned on this blog). Here is the relevant excerpt from the Commission’s submission:

The Commission wishes to note its concern regarding the heavy reliance of the State-owned Electricity Supply Board (ESB) on coal mined from the Cerrejón mining complex in La Guajira, north-eastern Colombia. Recent reports have indicated that up to 90 per cent of the coal burned at the ESB’s Moneypoint power station in County Clare comes from Colombia, with two thirds of it purchased from the Cerrejón mine. The operation of the Cerrejón mine has been linked with serious human rights abuses, including the forceful displacement of thousands of indigenous Wayúu, Afro Colombian and campesino populations, and contamination of farmland and drinking water.The sales branch of the Cerrejón mine has headquarters in Dublin.

The Commission notes the CERD Committee’s clear articulation of applicability of Convention provisions to indigenous peoples.The Commission further notes the UN’s Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, in particular their reference to States’ role in reducing the risk of gross human rights abuses in regions affected by conflict.

The Irish Government has signaled its commitment to the UN’s Guiding Principles,as well as having played a significant leadership role in the Colombian peace process.The Government has also committed in its Climate Action plan to the “early and complete phase-out of coal- and peat-fired electricity generation” by 2030.

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission has made two specific recommendations to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in light of these business activities:

  • The Commission recommends that the Irish Government raise concerns about human rights abuses in the Cerrejón mine with the Government of Colombia, and lend its support to the initiation of an independent inquiry into the operation of the mine, and restitution and compensation for victims of displacement and other human rights abuses.
  • The Commission further recommends that, in line with its National Plan on Business and Human Rights actions on Corporate Responsibility and Access to Remedy,that the Government engage with companies domiciled in Ireland with links to the Cerrejón mine regarding human rights abuses occurring there.

The ‘shadow report’ of the Irish Centre for Human Rights submitted to the Committee also draws on the Cerrejón coal mine example, as well as other key instances of business activities in Ireland that may be associated with racial discrimination. The short excerpt is also reproduced here in full:

  • Private companies are responsible for the delivery of the direct provision system for asylum seekers in Ireland. The private sector is thus directly involved in a system which, as CERD has previously noted, involves inappropriate living conditions with potentially serious adverse social and health implications.
  • The overseas activities or business relationships of Irish domiciled companies have also often been directly at odds with the object and purpose of ICERD. In light of CERD’s previous recommendations regarding the activities of transnational corporations outside of the territory of the State party, the ICHR submits the following illustrative examples of Irish business involvement in potential violations of ICERD outside of Ireland in industries such as resource extraction, construction and digital tourism:
    • Prominent Irish companies have been implicated in the mining activities at Cerrejón mine in Colombia, which have had a negative impact on the rights of indigenous peoples and involve ongoing harmful impacts on the environment, both locally and globally. Civil society has identified how the majority of coal burned by the State- owned company ESB at its Moneypoint power plant in Ireland is imported from the Cerrejón mine, while a Dublin-based company, CMC Coal Marketing, is the exclusive marketer of all coal extracted from this controversial mine.
    • Irish construction companies have been active in the construction of facilities and infrastructure for the World Cup 2022 in Qatar, which has involved the widespread ill-treatment of migrant workers and instances of forced labour. There is no evidence that the Irish government has taken any steps to ensure that Irish companies are not complicit in such abuses or to ensure remedies are provided to victims.
    • Airbnb, which conducts much of its global business through a Dublin-based company, Airbnb Ireland, has been found to conduct its business activities of property rentals in the unlawful Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory. Such activities contribute to the perpetuation of a system of racial segregation which is at odds with Article 3 of ICERD.

In light of these examples, the submission from the Irish Centre for Human Rights states that:

The Irish Government has failed to take sufficient steps to ensure that business enterprises that operate in Ireland meet their responsibility to respect human rights, including under ICERD. Although the Irish Government adopted a National Plan on Business and Human Rights 2017-2020 for the purpose of implementing the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, progress has been extremely slow to date, such that two years since the adoption of the national plan no guidance has yet been provided to business enterprises in this context. Moreover, the approach adopted by the Irish Government is one which favours encouraging companies to respect human rights, rather than developing legal obligations for companies to respect human rights, particularly in the context of overseas activities. While a number of countries have moved towards mandatory human rights due diligence for large or state-owned companies, Ireland has not made any commitment in this direction. Insufficient attention has also been paid to the rights of victims and to the need of ensuring access to remedy.

The recommendations from the Irish Centre for Human Rights to the CERD Committee are:

  • Ireland should take the necessary and appropriate measures to ensure that Irish business enterprises are aware of their responsibility to respect human rights, including the prohibition of racial discrimination.
  • Ireland should adopt legislation to ensure the availability of remedies for victims of business activities which harm human rights, including by Irish companies operating or engaging in business activities abroad.

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