For anyone interested to learn more about the relationship between Irish companies, fossil fuel extraction, environmental damage, human rights violations and tax avoidance, look no further than Christian Aid Ireland’s new report Undermining Human Rights: Ireland, the ESB and Cerrejón Coal. The report provides a valuable examination of how the State-owned ESB has been connected for a number of years with human rights and environmental harms associated with the Cerrejón mine in Colombia. This issue was also highlighted in the recent Concluding Observations on Ireland of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
Philip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, provides a powerful and veracious foreword to the report, which takes both the Irish government and relevant corporate actors to task. Ireland’s efforts to date have not matched its rhetoric, while companies “play the game of purporting to be responsive to local, national and international pressures while all the while marching full steam ahead in putting their own profits ahead of serious concerns relating to human rights, environmental sustainability, and the basic health of affected communities”. Professor Alston reiterates the pre-eminent role of the State in this context:
Given the propensity of corporate actors in such situations to avoid or evade responsibility and to take public relations driven, rather than public interest driven, decisions, it is governments which are best placed to put an end to what clearly are major abuses of human rights and of the environment.
As Green News has reported, staff from the ESB have expressed concern at issues related to Cerrejón that “show the company in a bad light”.
Christian Aid’s report, and I was pleased to have been asked to comment on an earlier draft of the report, provides a detailed factual background to the case of Colombia coal and its connection with Ireland, before making specific recommendations, including to Ireland and the ESB:
This latest report by Christian Aid Ireland is yet another sign that business and human rights is being increasingly embraced by Irish civil society organisations as a means to challenge corporate harm that is compounded by State inaction. While the Irish government has at least demonstrated some engagement with the business and human rights agenda, Irish companies have been extremely poor in this respect, as last year’s report from the Trinity Centre for Social Innovation so clearly demonstrated. Christian Aid’s report has been picked up by the media over the past couple of days, including by the Irish Times and RTÉ.
Philip Alston describes the report as “a carefully researched and compelling analysis that highlights the conjunction of several of the most pressing and challenging issues that should be high on Ireland’s agenda for the 2020s”. The report comes at a time of significant change in Irish politics and in relation to the subjects it covers, business and human rights was specifically mentioned in the party manifesto of poll-toppers Sinn Féin, while the Green Party has committed to reducing over reliance on imported fossil fuels. Perhaps in this new context, Christian Aid’s report will gain the traction that is so badly needed.