Tuesday, 23 July 2019

Questions (129)

Róisín Shortall


129. Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the steps he has taken to develop an official position on areas of national competence for the negotiation of a legally binding instrument to regulate the activities on transnational corporations and other business enterprises; and if he will participate with other EU countries and UN member states in the fifth session of the open-ended intergovernmental session in Geneva in October 2019. [32908/19]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

Ireland is committed to giving effect to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. To this end, I launched the National Plan on Business and Human Rights (2017-2020) on behalf of the Government in November 2017. The principal objective of the Plan is to promote responsible business practice at home and overseas by all Irish business enterprises.

The question of a legally binding treaty to regulate the activities 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 Group was established on foot of a resolution adopted by the Human Rights Council in 2014, led by a number of developing countries, including Ecuador and South Africa. Four sessions of the Group have taken place to date. In advance of the fourth and most recent session in October 2018, Ecuador circulated a draft of a legally binding instrument. The Group also held an informal consultation relating to the proposed instrument in Geneva last month, which Ireland attended. The next session of the Group will take place in October 2019 and Ireland will continue to work with our EU partners to look at how we might actively and constructively engage in the negotiation process, notwithstanding our serious concerns about the way in which the work of the Group has been conducted to date.

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 draft treaty circulated last year focussed 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. A revised draft treaty circulated last week by the Group chair in Geneva will be carefully examined to assess whether deficiencies identified in the earlier document have been addressed.

We would wish to see essential human rights principles reflected in any possible instrument, which should 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.