Government Must Ensure Businesses Respect Human Rights

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

A new report calls on the Government to ensure that companies respect human rights and to provide guidance to businesses on the requirements of human rights due diligence, including when operating overseas. Such due diligence should be a mandatory requirement underpinned by legislation, according to the report’s authors at the Irish Centre for Human Rights in NUI Galway.

‘Business and Human Rights in Ireland’ aims to contribute to policy, practice and law on business and human rights in Ireland. The report will be officially launched this evening by Professor Michael O’Flaherty, who is a member of the United Nations Human Rights Committee and Chief Commissioner of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission.

Illustrative examples of business negatively impacting on human rights provide a context for the report. Prominent examples mentioned in the report include Irish technology companies implicated in Syrian censorship, the Corrib gas dispute involving Shell and Statoil, the working conditions of migrant workers engaged in mushroom picking, the treatment of GAMA construction workers, and the working conditions in the supply chain for Penneys/Primark.

Multinational companies headquartered in Ireland, such as Apple, are also relevant according to the report authors, as they have been criticised for their human rights record.

In 2011, the United Nations adopted Professor John Ruggie’s Framework for Business and Human Rights, which emphasises a state duty to protect human rights, a corporate responsibility to respect human rights and the need to strengthen remedies to respond to violations of human rights by business.

This UN framework provides guidance for States such as Ireland, although aspects of its practical impacts on issues such as Irish businesses operating abroad have yet to be put into practice. 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.

“State representatives frequently assert Ireland’s commitment to the United Nations and human rights, although the Government has yet to issue a comprehensive policy document on business and human rights,” explained Dr Shane Darcy of NUI Galway’s Irish Centre for Human Rights.

In the context of an open export-led economy reliant on foreign direct investment with numerous multinational corporations present in Ireland, extraterritorial jurisdiction is particularly could prove of considerable relevance here.

“The concept of extraterritorial jurisdiction as a means of ensuring the State protects against human rights violations by business when acting outside of its territory is particularly relevant in the context of a globalised economy and the transnational nature of many business activities. Ireland provides for some limited oversight or adjudication of extraterritorial activities of Irish companies, but it remains underutilised as a means of ensuring compliance with the State duty to protect human rights in the context of business.

Another recommendation of the report is that there be requirement of human rights compliance and reporting by business for public procurement contracts, State investment or listing on the Irish Stock Exchange.

A full copy of the report is available at www.nuigalway.ie/human_rights

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Author: Marketing and Communications Office, NUI Galway
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