I propose to take Questions Nos. 67 and 69 together.
In November 2017, my Department launched the National Plan on Business and Human Rights 2017 -2020 to give effect to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. The Plan is a whole of Government initiative which has been developed with the support and cooperation of a number of Government Departments and State Agencies. Its aim is to promote responsible business practices at home and overseas by all Irish business enterprises in line with Ireland’s commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights globally. The Plan is directed at Government and State agencies, Irish companies operating at home and overseas, and multinational enterprises operating in Ireland.
My Department has established the Business and Human Rights Implementation Group to oversee implementation of the National Plan over the next three years. Its membership consists of representatives from civil society, the business community, Government and an independent Chairperson. The first meeting of the Implementation Group took place on 16 January 2019 and it is being tasked with taking forward delivery of key action points under each of the three pillars of the UN Guiding Principles, i.e. the State duty to protect, corporate responsibility to respect and access to remedy. The next meeting of the Group is due to take place in April.
To aid the work of the Implementation Group, my Department commissioned a baseline assessment of the current legislative and regulatory framework for business and human rights in Ireland from an independent consultant. This assessment identifies key issues for Ireland in a number of areas including worker’s rights, anti-corruption, equality, anti-trafficking, data protection, environment, non-financial reporting, procurement and supply chain. It also assess Ireland’s international commitments in the area of business and human rights. The report makes a number of recommendations which may help guide the work of the Group when implementing the National Plan on Business and Human Rights. The baseline assessment is currently being finalised and will shortly be uploaded to my Department’s website.
Ireland consistently advocates for the right of civil society actors and human rights defenders to operate in a free and safe environment without fear of reprisal. Ireland played a key role in the drafting of EU Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders, adopted during our EU Presidency in 2004. Ireland is also a co-sponsor of the annual Human Rights Defenders resolution at the UN Human Rights Council and continues to use the Universal Periodic Review process as an opportunity to make recommendations to states on the matter.
Ireland is open to looking at options for progress on a legally binding Treaty, which we believe should treat all economic operators in a non-discriminatory manner and should therefore cover companies engaged in purely domestic operations as well as transnational corporations.
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. 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. In this regard, we are of the view that the appropriate place for the discussion of any new initiatives is the annual UN Forum on Business and Human Rights, which was established in 2011 by the Human Rights Council to serve as a global platform to discuss trends and challenges in the implementation of the Guiding Principles.