Business and human rights has come a long way in Ireland. From little to no engagement by either the Irish government, civil society or business with the late John Ruggie’s six year mandate, which ended a decade ago, we now have an Irish national action plan on business and human rights, currently undergoing revision, which signals Ireland’s acceptance of the need to address the impact of business on human rights, growing academic research on how Irish companies adhere to the UN Guiding Principles, and a civil society that is informed, organised and active in pushing for legal and policy reform in Ireland on business and human rights.
While the business sector in Ireland has been weak on engaging with human rights, not helped by an Irish government that has favoured the language of encouragement and voluntarism in this sphere, Irish NGOs have been to the forefront in seeking action, whether in the initial adoption of Ireland’s national plan or in continued efforts for legislation on human rights and environmental due diligence. Trócaire have played a particularly prominent role, including in the push for a business and human rights treaty.
This past week saw a significant step-up in the campaigning efforts of Irish civil society with the launch by the recently formed Irish Coalition for Business and Human Rights of Make it Your Business: How Ireland can ensure businesses respect human rights and the environment. The Coalition draws its membership from many of the leading human rights, environment and development organisations in Ireland, as well as academic experts.
There is a rich repository of knowledge and expertise amongst its members, many of whom have worked on corporate accountability issues for years, often prior to the current United Nations business and human rights efforts. The purpose of the Coalition is to achieve:
- Mandatory, gender responsive human rights and environmental due diligence legislation in Ireland
- Ireland’s support for the development of a UN binding treaty on business and human rights, with a gender and human rights defender perspective
The report itself should be compulsory reading not only for activists interested in holding the State and companies to account, but also for Government Ministers and civil servants across a number of departments, as well as business representative organisations and Irish companies. Using a number of cases it demonstrates how Irish business is unwittingly or otherwise implicated in serious violations of human rights, including in the context of fossil fuel extraction and digital tourism. It emphasises the need to move beyond voluntary principles, situating its analysis in the broader context of European and international developments. It provides a valuable chapter on what corporate accountability legislation could entail, setting out a number of discrete elements:
This report by the Irish Coalition on Business and Human Rights has generated some media coverage, although perhaps not as much as would be hoped given the critical human rights and environmental issues it addresses (but certainly more than when the Irish Government launched is national plan in November 2017).
Over the past ten years, Irish civil society and opposition politicians have been regularly pressuring successive governments to take action to ensure business respect for human rights and have often been frustrated with the form and pace of measures taken. This report evidences public support in Ireland for regulation in this context and provides the template for how Ireland can meet its human rights and environmental obligations should the political will exist.