Submission to UN Committee on the Rights of the Child highlights need for Ireland to take action on business and human rights

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission has called on Ireland to be more assertive on business and human rights in its recent submission to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. The submission provides the perspective of Ireland’s national human rights institution on Ireland’s combined fifth and sixth periodic reports under the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Despite some positive developments, the report notes starkly that there are “too many children continuing to face significant and regular violations of their rights” in Ireland.

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission has made strong recommendations on key business and human rights issues, principally due diligence for companies, Ireland’s forthcoming second national plan on business and human rights and improving access to remedies, including for overseas victims.

With regard to human rights due diligence, the Commission considered it “crucial” for progress to be made here, recommending “the introduction of a mandatory requirement for human rights due diligence, including in the context of Government procurement, and including a focus on children’s rights”. The Commission is reiterating its previous call on human rights due diligence, one which is in line with the views of several Irish civil society organisations, and with the ‘Baseline Assessment’ commissioned by the Department of Foreign Affairs and completed in 2019 (as well as a growing number of investors). Ireland has not taken any steps on such legislation, and is likely to defer to developments at the EU level in this context.

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission will find a receptive audience with the Committee on the Rights of the Child on business and human rights. The Committee has lead the way amongst the treaty bodies in this sphere, adopting a specialised general comment in 2013 and including a section on children’s rights and the business sector in its concluding observations on States periodic reports as a matter of course for almost a decade.

The Committee on the Rights of the Child raised its concerns with the Irish Government’s efforts on business and human rights in its last set of concluding observations in 2016. At this time, Ireland had yet to adopt its national  plan on business and human rights, although the Committee was critical of the ‘working outline’ then available, which placed insufficient attention on children’s rights. The Commission has recommended that a second national plan should reflect a number of recent suggestions for improvement and include a clearer emphasis on children’s rights.

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission also makes the following recommendation concerning access to remedy:

The Commission recommends that the State ensures full and expansive implementation of the proposed Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive, and robust access to effective remedies for child victims of human rights abuses of Irish-domiciled companies, whether harms occur domestically or overseas.

The Committee on the Rights of the Child has long understood that States parties have extraterritorial human rights obligations under the Convention and will no doubt urge Ireland to take action in this context.

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission has previously raised its concern regarding the impact of corporate tax avoidance on human rights, and although it does not do so in this submission, it is a matter that is on the agenda of the Committee on the Rights of the Child. In the ‘List of Issues’ published in 2020, the Committee asked Ireland to describe measures taken to “[e]nsure that tax policies do not contribute to tax abuse by companies operating in other countries, leading to a negative impact on the availability of resources for the realization of children’s rights in those countries”.

In its combined fifth and sixth periodic reports, Ireland stated bluntly that “its tax policy does not contribute to tax abuse by companies operating in other countries”. GLAN, Christian Aid Ireland and a number of other organisations took a very different view when engaging the Committee on the matter in 2020. Ireland will appear before the Committee in early 2023, and this topic is likely to remain a live one, as will the various other business and human rights concerns that have been raised in the context of children’s rights.  

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On the role of the treaty bodies in the context of business and human rights, I have posted a draft paper here which readers may find of interest. Here is the abstract:

The relationship between business and human rights has been the subject of considerable attention within the United Nations. The treaty monitoring bodies of the United Nations human rights system have played an important but insufficiently explored role in this context. This article discusses the contribution of the treaty monitoring bodies to business and human rights and argues for a deeper engagement by the treaty bodies in this sphere. It starts by examining their initial engagement with human rights concerns regarding harmful corporate activity and tracking their influence on the development of the UN Guiding Principles. It then explores various developments since 2011, including the adoption of specialised general comments on business and human rights and addresses some divergences in the treaty bodies understanding of State obligations and private sector responsibilities in this context compared with those articulated in the UN Guiding Principles.  The article also reflects on the potential future contribution of the treaty bodies to business and human rights against the backdrop of continued but faltering efforts to implement the UN Guiding Principles at the national level and to develop a new treaty on business and human rights.

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