New report highlights limited to no engagement by Irish companies with business and human rights

A new report published by the Centre for Social Innovation at Trinity Business School in Dublin paints a very poor picture of Irish company engagement with business and human rights. Business and Human Rights in Ireland: Benchmarking compliance with the UN Guiding Principles, which is authored by Benn Finlay Hogan, Mary Lee Rhodes, Susan P. Murphy, and Mary Lawlor, comprises the first study seeking to measure compliance by business enterprises in Ireland with the UN Guiding Principles on business and human rights.

The report aims to take stock of current practices under the second pillar of the Guiding Principles, the ‘corporate responsibility to respect’, and to influence policy and company behavior in the future:

Until now, however, there has been no analysis of the relationship between expected and actual compliance of Irish companies with the UNGPs. The Centre for Social Innovation in the Trinity Business School set out to create the first benchmark of Irish companies’ compliance with UNGPs. The Centre sought to contribute to the deliberations of the Implementation Group and to provide Irish companies with baseline information for their own strategy in relation to human rights. […] We hope and expect that Irish business and Irish policy-makers will seize the opportunity to understand where they are today and make clear where they expect to be in the future.

The report uses the Corporate Human Rights Benchmark Core UNGP Indicator Assessment to measure governance and policy commitments, embedding respect for human rights and due diligence, and remedies and grievance mechanisms. The sample of 22 companies examined was based on the criteria set out in the 2017 Regulations addressed to non-financial reporting by certain large companies. Amongst the companies included are CRH, Glanbia, Kingspan, Ryanair and Kerry Group. The authors note that “owing to the nature of the sample, the findings cannot be generalised to the entire population of Irish companies”.

The results are stark, if not entirely unexpected. Over recent years I have had the sense that very few if any Irish companies have engaged with business and human rights in any meaningful way. According to the authors, the performance is by Irish companies is “weak across the board”. Only five companies had a total score greater than 20%, seven scored between 10-20%, and ten companies scored less than 10%.

A striking example in this report is the findings relating to embedding respect for human rights and human rights due diligence. The average score was just 4.1%, with 15 companies having a score of zero. For human right due diligence, the average score was just 2%, showing that human rights due diligence “is either not occurring, or at least is not being disclosed, within Irish companies included in the sample”.

In light of these findings, the report’s authors conclude that:

  • There is a lack of awareness among Irish companies of the UN Guiding Principles on Business & Human Rights and/or a lack of explicit compliance with these as evidenced by the low scores in the CHRB index;
  • The particular weakness appears to be in the area of ‘embedding respect and human rights due diligence’ in their policies and public declarations – although companies are weak in all areas examined

Five years ago, Aaronson and Higham pointed to the role of governments in the then limited engagement with the United Nations Guiding Principles on business and human rights. Business and Human Rights in Ireland: Benchmarking compliance with the UN Guiding Principles effectively makes the same argument in the Irish context:

If the Irish Government wishes to achieve the objectives of their National Plan, there will need to be serious efforts at human rights consciousness-raising among businesses, alongside training and national guidance on how to ensure compliance with the UNGPs

The final words are particularly relevant, given the exchanges in the Dáil this week concerning human rights due diligence for Irish companies:

there needs to be something beyond the ‘soft law’ of national action plans, guidance, and the public approbation that may arise from benchmarking if companies are truly going to be incentivised to embed a respect for human rights into their policies and practices. As other States move towards mandatory human rights due diligence, Ireland should not be left behind.

The full report is available here.

3 responses to “New report highlights limited to no engagement by Irish companies with business and human rights

  1. Shane,
    Thanks for the update on Irish company engagement with business and human rights- very disappointing.

    A question- How is the Irish government engaging with business schools, law schools, engineering schools and universities to show the depth of their belief in the need for change and to ensure the understanding of the UN Guiding Principles? Another question- thinking of your article about corporations and taxes- any change with regards to companies paying the taxes they should pay?

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