A Missed Opportunity? Business and Human Rights in Ireland's Foreign Policy Review

We are delighted to welcome the latest in a series of cross-posts by Dr Shane Darcy from the Business and Human Rights in Ireland Blog. The Business and Human Rights in Ireland Blog is dedicated to tracking and analysing developments relating to business and human rights in Ireland. It aims to address legal and policy issues, as well as highlighting human rights concerns raised by the activities of Irish companies or multinational corporations based in Ireland. The blog is run by Dr Shane Darcy who is a lecturer at the Irish Centre for Human Rights, National University of Ireland Galway.

Readers of the blog might recall that this time last year a number of NGOs made submissions to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in relation to its review of Ireland’s foreign policy. Amnesty International, for example, asked the Department to make it “unambiguously clear that Ireland will not allow its economic interests to trump its responsibility to promote and protect human rights”. Other civil society organisations pushed for action on the development of a national plan to implement the United Nations Guiding Principles on business and human rights.

Continue reading “A Missed Opportunity? Business and Human Rights in Ireland's Foreign Policy Review”

A Missed Opportunity? Business and Human Rights in Ireland's Foreign Policy Review

Civil Society Perspectives on Business and Human Rights

Screen Shot 2014-11-05 at 11.11.59We are delighted to welcome the latest in a series of cross-posts by Dr Shane Darcy from the Business and Human Rights in Ireland Blog. The Business and Human Rights in Ireland Blog is dedicated to tracking and analysing developments relating to business and human rights in Ireland. It aims to address legal and policy issues, as well as highlighting human rights concerns raised by the activities of Irish companies or multinational corporations based in Ireland. The blog is run by Dr Shane Darcy who is a lecturer at the Irish Centre for Human Rights, National University of Ireland Galway.

The theme for this year’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade NGO human rights Forum is ‘Business and Human Rights: Implementing the United Nations Guiding Principles’. The event, which takes places this Friday, 7 November 2014, is seen by the Department as part of its consultative process towards the development of a national action plan for the implementation of the UN Guiding Principles:

The objective is to present the opportunity for business and civil society to set out their views on business and human rights, both in the broad sense and also with a view to helping to develop a national plan.

In the lead-up to the Forum, a series of guest posts have been running on the Business and Human Rights in Ireland blog, bringing together a variety of international and national civil society perspectives on the topic of national plans for business and human rights. In this post, I try to highlight some of the key points made by the contributors, which may be of interest to those attending Friday’s event.

Starting off the series, Shawan Jabarin, the Director General of Al-Haq, the Palestinian human rights organisation, underscores the role that business is playing in perpetuating the Israeli occupation of Palestine. He makes an interesting historical comparision with Ireland, and considers it:

both ironic and disappointing is that today one of Ireland’s largest corporations, Cement Roadstone Holdings, is profiting from the construction of settlements and walls in occupied Palestinian territory, both of which are violations of international law.

Al Haq, who will be represented at the Forum (as will Cement Roadstone Holdings), have expressed their hope that Ireland might use this opportunity to “raise the bar” in the area of business and human rights.

David Joyce from the Irish Congress of Trade Unions reflects in his piece on the contribution that the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights can make towards the attainment of the decent work agenda. He sees their importance in the clarification they bring regarding the different roles and responsibilities of business and Governments. He rightly observes that “businesses should not decide what their responsibilities to society are”. David also highlights the weakness of the OECD National Contact Point in Ireland and sees an opportunity in this process for its strengthening.

Karol Balfe, a policy adviser for Christian Aid Ireland focuses on the case of Colombia, in particular on issues relating to trade and human rights. She highlights the opposition of many unions and farmers to the EU Free Trade Agreement with Colombia and Peru, which is to be the subject of a forthcoming Dáil debate. Although there are some human rights aspects to the Agreement, she points to the absence of proper monitoring or compliance mechanisms. She calls on the Irish government, in line with the Guiding Principles, to “develop and set out clear and specific human rights guidelines for Irish companies doing business in Colombia in order to ensure they do not violate human rights”.

Selina Donnelly, Policy Officer for Trócaire, also contributed a post, drawing on the detailed policy position paper on business and human rights that the organisation has just published. Extraterritorial enforcement of human rights is particularly important, she writes, “given the increasing globalisation of business, and growth of corporate influence”. She highlights the significant risks that Irish businesses may become directly responsible or complicit in human rights violations, especially in countries with poor human rights records or weak regulatory environments. She outlines Trócaire’s recommendations regarding remedies, due diligence and the need for a gender focus.

On the subject of national action plans for business and human rights, Claire Methven O’Brien, Strategic Adviser to the Danish Institute for Human Rights, makes the compelling case as to why such plans can help advance the business and human rights agenda. She highlights five key reasons as to why States should adopt national implementation plans: stocktaking, increasing the visibility of particular rights issues, exposure of poor human rights practice, facilitating dialogue between Governments, business and civil society, and, finally, permitting home-grown responses to concerns over business impacts on human rights.

In the most recent contributions, Nicholas McGeehan, Middle East Researcher for Human Rights Watchexplains that the adoption of the Guiding Principles has “undoubtedly” helped NGOs address corporate violations of human rights, by providing a framework in which to put pressure on companies. He focuses on forced labour in the Gulf, particularly prominent in the context of the World Cup in Qatar in 2022, and provides some basic advice for construction companies that might be operating there. Hannah Grene, an independent researcher in human rights and development, also looks at issues of extraterritorial respect for human rights. She draws on Ireland’s poor record in relation to bribery overseas and advocates for significant changes to the way in which the OECD national contact point operates here.

 

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This post gives just a flavour of some of the business and human rights issues that civil society will be seeking to be addressed at the annual DFAT NGO human rights Forum this Friday. A recent post on the blog also included a summary of recommendations made by the Irish Centre for Human Rights in 2012 on the subject of business and human rights. Other NGOs in Ireland have also made submissions to the Department in the recent past relating to business and human rights, including Amnesty International, and no doubt they will also make their voices heard at the Forum.

Civil Society Perspectives on Business and Human Rights

Business and Human Rights In Ireland’s Foreign Policy Review

screen-shot-2014-02-18-at-07-22-53We are delighted to welcome the latest in a series of cross-posts by Dr Shane Darcy from the Business and Human Rights in Ireland Blog. The Business and Human Rights in Ireland Blog is dedicated to tracking and analysing developments relating to business and human rights in Ireland. It aims to address legal and policy issues, as well as highlighting human rights concerns raised by the activities of Irish companies or multinational corporations based in Ireland. The blog is run by Dr Shane Darcy who is a lecturer at the Irish Centre for Human Rights, National University of Ireland Galway.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is currently undertaking a review of Irish foreign policy and has welcomed submissions from the public, including civil society. Business and human rights has featured prominently in several of these submissions and gives an indication of the importance of this issue in the context of foreign affairs. This post provides a short summary of some of the key points made in the various submissions.
Dóchas, the Association of Irish Non-Governmental Development Organisations made some valuable observations in its submission on the need for policy coherence in this context:

In the area of trade, for instance, this should mean Irish companies and individuals (and the State supporting them) adhering to international law and human rights conventions, norms and standards, and best practice international standards for business as a matter of course, but also to EU and Irish commitments, including to policy coherence for development.
The foreign policy review should result in Ireland establishing a timeline for the development of the National Action Plan to implement the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. This plan should include requirements for human rights due diligence by business entities in circumstances where it is deemed appropriate, including many developing country contexts.

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions similarly addressed the Irish Government’s failures regarding the United Nations Guiding Principles:

Ireland has not adequately addressed its responsibilities outlined in the United Nations Framework and Guiding Principles on business and human rights. The framework emphasises a State’s duty to protect human rights, a corporate responsibility to respect human rights and the need to provide remedies where violations by business entities occur. The Government has yet to issue a comprehensive policy document on business and human rights and should immediately initiate such a process.

Congress also proposed much-needed improvements to the National Contact Point system under the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, while also urging the Government to live up to its commitments regarding collective bargaining.
In its Public Consultation Document, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade does not make any reference to business and human rights. It refers to Irish embassies responding to “the needs of business”, and considers that “the promotion of trade, tourism and investment are essential functions of our foreign relations”. The promotion of human rights is, however, a “core element” of Irish foreign policy. And as Trócaire observed in its submission, “the foreign policy review needs to recognise the intrinsic links between these two areas through developing a human rights approach to our trade promotion work”. Trócaire also noted that the Irish Government has yet to develop a national action plan for the United Nations Guiding Principles on business and human rights. This UN initiative was also referenced in the submissions of Christian Aid Ireland, Gorta and Self Help Africa, and the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

screen-shot-2014-02-18-at-09-58-05The Galway Platform on Human Rights in Irish Foreign Policy identified business and human rights as a cross-cutting area that could be considered as a priority area for the Irish Government. Readers will recall the recent debacle concerning Ireland’s trade mission to the Gulf, and following which Minister Bruton rebuked those who suggested human rights issues should have been addressed in the context of trade. Clearly much work needs to be done to ensure that human rights remains at the heart of all aspects of Irish foreign policy, including the promotion of business and trade. The ongoing Irish foreign policy review provides an opportunity to do just that.

Business and Human Rights In Ireland’s Foreign Policy Review

The Ireland Saudi Arabia Business Council

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We are delighted to welcome this second cross-post by Dr Shane Darcy from the Business and Human Rights in Ireland Blog.  The Business and Human Rights in Ireland Blog is dedicated to tracking and analysing developments relating to business and human rights in Ireland. It aims to address legal and policy issues, as well as highlighting human rights concerns raised by the activities of Irish companies or multinational corporations based in Ireland. The blog is run by Dr Shane Darcy who is a lecturer at the Irish Centre for Human Rights, National University of Ireland Galway.

Should a company operate or sell its products in a country with a poor human rights record? Even if the company itself does not directly violate human rights? The debate on business and human rights focused for quite a while on the idea of complicity. The UN Global Compact, for example, urges businesses to “make sure that they are not complicit in human rights abuses”. What does this mean? Complicity can be interpreted broadly, in a moral or ethical sense, to cover a wide range of ways in which companies can be implicated in violations committed by States, other companies or individuals. In a legal sense, it tends to be construed more narrowly, and usually covers the knowing and substantial contribution to a particular wrong done by another party.

The establishment last year of the Ireland Saudi Arabia Business Council raises this very idea of complicity for Irish companies, given that Saudi Arabia has such a notoriously bad human rights record. According to the US State Department, common violations include:

citizens’ lack of the right and legal means to change their government; pervasive restrictions on universal rights such as freedom of expression, including on the Internet, and freedom of assembly, association, movement, and religion; and a lack of equal rights for women and children, as well as for workers.

It doesn’t stop there:

torture and other abuses, poor prison and detention center conditions, holding political prisoners and detainees, denial of due process and arbitrary arrest and detention, and arbitrary interference with privacy, home, and correspondence. Violence against women, trafficking in persons, and discrimination on the basis of gender, religion, sect, race, and ethnicity were common.

Just this week, seven Saudi men were executed for their part in an armed robbery. Several of them were under the age of eighteen at the time the crime was committed. The official news agency reports that all seven were beheaded, although death by firing squad seems to have been the method used.

Saudi Arabia is seen by the Irish Government as “a priority market with significant potential for Irish companies”. Trade missions have been undertaken by the Department of Jobs, Enterprise, and Innovation and the Government has voiced its strong support for the setting up of the independent Ireland Saudi Arabia Business Council. The Council aims to promote trade and business between the two countries and their companies.

It is not just a case of selling Irish products in Saudi Arabia. The Irish Times reports that Irish members of the Council “hoping to profit from the alliance” include the engineering businesses Sepam and Mercury, as well as the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and Athlone Institute of Technology. Can these companies and institutions operate in a country where discrimination, for example, is so embedded without becoming complicit in it? While employment equality is a legal obligation in Ireland, Irish companies that operate overseas and conduct themselves in accordance with local laws, may be a party to discriminatory practices, something which they would doubtlessly reject at home.

The Irish Government has been questioned in this context by political representatives on human rights in Saudi Arabia, especially the rights of women, and asked if it would raise these matters with the Saudi Government. Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore deferred to the EU: “Ireland and our EU partners have an active discussion with Saudi Arabia within the framework of the EU-Gulf co-operation council on a wide range of issues, including human rights”. Deputy Seán Crowe asked whether there was any “set of principles” guiding this, such as the McBride Principles that had been used in Northern Ireland. Gilmore didn’t say, but claimed that the “building of trade relations gives us an enhanced opportunity to engage on human rights with the countries concerned”. Deputy Clare Daly concluded that:

The Minister’s answer is disappointing. It is heavily loaded in favour of the money with very little adherence to the concerns raised about human rights and the systematic discrimination experienced by women in particular and the Shia minority, and the stifling of peaceful protest by the regime. Clearly the Saudi regime benefits enormously from its export and import relationship with Ireland.

The EU has occasionally voiced concerns regarding human rights issues in those countries with which its members trade, but concrete action affecting trade relations only tends to arise when sanctions are imposed. There are no sanctions on trade with Saudi Arabia.

For individual States and companies, guidance on dealing with repressive governments can be found in the United Nations Guiding Principles on business and human rights. These recommend that “States should set out clearly the expectation that all business enterprises domiciled in their territory and/or jurisdiction respect human rights throughout their operations”. As the Irish Government has not done this, companies themselves would be advised to heed the following advice in the Guiding Principles:

Conducting appropriate human rights due diligence should help business enterprises address the risk of legal claims against them by showing that they took every reasonable step to avoid involvement with an alleged human rights abuse.

Due diligence is seen as a way of avoiding complicity in human rights abuses for States and companies.

After the fall of apartheid, the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission examined the complicity of business in the apartheid system. It found three types of complicity. First, there were those companies, such as mining corporations, who helped “to design and implement apartheid policies”. Second were the businesses who gained from their cooperation with the security structures of the apartheid state. Most businesses, the Commission found, fell into the third category of having “benefited from operating in a racially structured context”.

Companies that do business in repressive countries like Saudi Arabia might ‘benefit’ in various ways, from restrictions on trade unions to low wages for workers. Media restrictions make it difficult to assess the exact level of complicity of those Irish companies that have “set sights on Saudi cash”. Trade relations with Saudi Arabia provide a stark example of the failure of the Irish government to adopt a comprehensive human rights policy in the context of business and trade. Such a policy should at the very least require due diligence, a human rights impact assessment by the companies involved and reporting on their compliance with relevant standards. Or is that too high a price to ask?

The Ireland Saudi Arabia Business Council

Ruggie, Rights and Regulation: Ireland and UN Framework on Business and Human Rights

We are delighted to welcome this Guest Post from Dr. Ciara Hackett.  Ciara is a lecturer in the School of Law at NUI Galway where she also serves as Deputy Director of the LL.M in Public Law.  Her research interests include corporate social responsibility, corporate governance, globalisation and marxist theories of development.

In 2011, Ireland signed up to the United Nations Framework on Business and Human Rights (Ruggie Principles) (see here).  The initial aim of the framework was to ensure that companies have the same obligations and range of duties under International Human Rights Law as states, namely “to promote, secure the fulfilment of, respect, ensure respect of, and protect human rights.”  The only distinctions made between the two seems to be that states have a “primary” duty and companies have a “secondary” duty.

The framework rests on three main pillars.  First is States’ duty to protect against human rights abuses by third parties, including business enterprises through appropriate policies regulation and adjudication.  The second is the corporate responsibility to respect human rights (i.e. avoid infringing on rights and address adverse impacts) and finally the need for access by victims to remedy (para. 6).

Reactions to the principles suggest that the framework is a weak formulation and does not go far enough (see here).  Addressing this framework in the context of the on-going financial crisis and indeed the particular case of Ireland raises some questions as to the effectiveness of the framework or indeed whether or not the aims are realistic.  In particular this post refers to the foundational principles of the framework: that states must protect against human rights abuse in particular through effective policies, legislation and regulations.  This requires a re-imagining of the current Irish regulatory framework for addressing the responsibilities of business.

As society endeavours to emerge from the economic crisis, governments are faced with a balancing exercise between retaining or achieving a desired competitiveness in a post recessionary era and developing regulatory structures to ensure that the same problems do not occur again.  For states like Ireland the problem is more ingrained, stemming from the nature of an economy that was for so long Continue reading “Ruggie, Rights and Regulation: Ireland and UN Framework on Business and Human Rights”

Ruggie, Rights and Regulation: Ireland and UN Framework on Business and Human Rights

Call for Papers: Ireland and the United Nations Framework for Business and Human Rights

A one-day conference organised by the Irish Centre for Human Rights and the School of Law, NUI Galway entitled “Ireland and the United Nations Framework for Business and Human Rights” will take place on 24 March 2012 at the National University of Ireland Galway.  The conference seeks to explore and analyse issues of law and policy for Ireland arising from the 2011 adoption by the United Nations of Professor John Ruggie’s framework for business and human rights.  The framework emphasises a State’s duty to protect human rights, a corporate responsibility to respect human rights and the need to provide remedies to respond to violations of human rights by business.  This conference seeks to look beyond the voluntary corporate social responsibility approach to business and human rights; as Maurice Manning, President of the Irish Human Rights Commission has observed, “voluntarism can never be a substitute for global standards on businesses’ mandatory compliance with human rights”. The organisers welcome in particular contributions which address seek to address legal questions which arise in relation to the UN framework on business and human rights.  Ireland represents an obvious case study in this context, given the presence of numerous multinational corporations, increasing privatisation of public services and allegations of corporate involvement in human rights violations both in and outside of Ireland. The conference aims to address the following topics:

  • Legal and policy approaches to regulation of Irish companies for human rights
  • Obligations of the State and companies when public functions are privatised
  • Role of extraterritorial jurisdiction in Irish law to address violations committed overseas by Irish companies or multinationals based here
  • The potential role of criminal law to address violations of human rights by business
  • Civil litigation as a means accountability – lessons from the Alien Tort Claims Act
  • Remedies for victims

Abstract Submission

Abstracts should be sent by 21 December 2011 to: Dr Shane Darcy (shane.darcy@nuigalway.ie) and Dr Ciara Hackett (ciara.hackett@nuigalway.ie). Successful applicants will be informed in January 2012 of their acceptance to the conference. For further information and registration for the conference please contact: Hadeel Abu Hussein: h.abushussein1@nuigalway.ie

Call for Papers: Ireland and the United Nations Framework for Business and Human Rights