Tuesday, 16 April 2019

Questions (118)

Seán Barrett


118. Deputy Seán Barrett asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his plans to support a UN binding treaty on business and human rights in 2019 (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17340/19]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

The question of a legally binding treaty to regulate the activies of transnational corporations and other business enterprises has been under consideration by the Inter-Governmental Working Group on Transnational Corporations and other Business Enterprises.  The Working Group was established on foot of a resolution to the Human Rights Council in 2014 led by a number of developing countries, including Ecuador and South Africa.

Four sessions of the Working Group have taken place to date.   In advance of the fourth and most recent session in October 2018, Ecuador circulated the "zero draft" of a legally binding instrument.  The next session of the Group will take place in October 2019.  Notwithstanding our serious concerns about the way in which the work of the Group has been conducted to date, Ireland will work with EU partners to engage actively and constructively in the negotiation process. 

While we are open to looking at options for progress on a legally binding treaty, we believe that all economic operators should be treated in a non-discriminatory manner.  The "zero draft" treaty that has been circulated focuses on transnational corporations and it is Ireland's view that any new treaty should cover both companies engaged in purely domestic operations as well as transnational corporations. 

Such a treaty should also reflect essential human rights principles, reaffirm the universality, indivisibility and interdependence of human rights and stress the primary responsibility of States under existing human rights obligations to protect against human rights violations.

Ultimately, if it is to achieve its objectives, any legally binding instrument should enjoy broad support among UN Member States to ensure its effectiveness as well as international coherence in the framework of business and human rights.  On this point, I would note that of the 21 countries which to date have adopted National Plans on Business and Human Rights, 16, including Ireland, are EU Member States.  

We would like to see any new initiative build on, rather than duplicate, existing measures such as the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and the ILO Tripartite Declaration of Principles Concerning Multinational Enterprises and Social Policy. Above all we believe that it should be rooted in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.  In this regard, we are of the view that the UN Working Party on Business and Human Rights and the annual UN Forum on Business and Human Rights provide appropriate fora for consideration of any new initiatives.