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Business and Human Rights

2021 was the year we told world leaders to #CopOn…looking back on our journey for global justice

2021 was another year of huge challenges with Covid-19, climate change and conflict impacting some of the poorest people on the planet. Despite the challenges, there were some causes for hope. Trócaire CEO Caoimhe de Barra reflects on the highs and lows of the last 12 months.

Angelina Mhlanga is struggling to feed her family given the challenges of drought and Covid in Zimbabwe.  Trócaire has been responding with emergency food and cash  assistance. Photo Credit: Ben Mahaka Angelina Mhlanga is struggling to feed her family given the challenges of drought and Covid in Zimbabwe. Trócaire has been responding with emergency food and cash assistance. Photo Credit: Ben Mahaka

As I reflect on 2021, I recall a trip to the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon in October where I visited a desolate looking refugee camp, home to thousands of people displaced due to the ten-year conflict in Syria.

I spoke to people living in dire conditions on less than $3 a day, with little hope of work. Many were women and girls exposed to gender-based violence and harassment on an almost daily basis.  

Many refugees have been living in camps in Bekaa Valley for as long as eight years. They are trapped – neither welcome in Lebanon, or able to return home to Syria for security and economic reasons. 

Our work with partners SAWA for Development Aid and Women Now for Development is crucial to supporting this traumatised refugee population and helping them live in dignity.

While it was heart-breaking to meet the refugee population and to hear about the trauma they continue to experience, I found it uplifting to see at first hand the impact of the work of Trócaire and our partners in providing protection, psychosocial support, and basic needs in the camps.

Travel for me to the countries we work in has been restricted due to Covid-19, but I always come home from a visit inspired and with a new sense of purpose.

Climate Justice

2021 presented massive challenges to millions of vulnerable people suffering due to the compounding effects of Covid-19, conflict and climate change.

There was huge focus this year on climate justice with COP26 in November representing a moment of great expectation as the world looked to leaders to take the opportunity to put the planet on a sustainable course, and to act with the urgency that the climate emergency requires.

The failure of our leaders to include Loss and Damage financing in the final Cop26 agreement was deeply disappointing. It was a missed opportunity by the powerful nations who have contributed most to climate change to put justice at the heart of climate action. 

Richer countries failed to deliver on the promised $100bn per annum by 2020, and it will be crucial that states deliver on this finance by 2023. Ireland’s commitment to allocate €225 million per year to climate finance is welcome. However the figure of $100bn will need to be greatly increased to meet growing climate adaptation needs and to support countries in implementing their mitigation plans. 

Thanks to our generous supporters, our climate justice programmes supported 301,000 people across 13 countries last year and our commitment to climate justice will continue in 2022.

The injustice of vaccine inequity

This Christmas will once again be overshadowed by Covid-19, and in particular the new Omicron variant which is putting the lives of millions around the world at risk and huge pressure on health systems everywhere.

The most recent WHO figures show that 66% of people in high income countries have had at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine compared to only 9% in low-income countries. The Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that in many countries on the continent, including where Trócaire works, the vaccination rates hover at around 1%. This inequity is a shocking injustice.

Pharmaceutical companies currently have too much power and control over where Covid-19 vaccines are produced, and at what price. 

A small number of pharmaceutical companies currently enjoy a monopoly on COVID vaccine production and are making billions in profit by selling these drugs to rich countries where the demand is strong and where there is the means to pay. 

The Pfizer vaccine alone yielded $36bn in revenue for the pharmaceutical giant in the first three quarters of 2021.  Meanwhile, many people in low-income countries have no reasonable prospect of seeing a vaccine in the foreseeable future.  

A crucial step towards redressing the global vaccine inequity is to grant a temporary patent waiver for Covid-19 vaccine manufacturing, allowing countries to produce their own generic versions of vaccines. The Government should join other states in supporting a TRIPS waiver and to use its influence within the European Union to change the EU’s blocking position at the World Trade Organisation, to facilitate the urgent scaling up of global supply of life saving vaccines.

Remembering Berta Caceres, Human Rights Defender

There was good news in 2021 in Honduras in the struggle against corporate exploitation.

In August, the Honduran Supreme Court delivered some justice to the family of renowned activist Berta Cáceres who was shot dead in 2016 after a long battle to stop the construction of an environmentally damaging hydroelectric project. David Castillo, CEO of DESA energy company, was found guilty of being a co-collaborator in the ordering of her murder.

The conviction of Castillo was a beacon of hope for Honduras and will set a precedent for human rights and environmental cases like this around the world.  This is an inspiring example of what can be achieved through strong political will and global solidarity for justice and equality.

Our team worked tirelessly to support Berta and her family. Our call for corporate justice for Berta and all the other human rights defenders at risk around the world will continue into 2022. Our ‘Make It Your Business’ campaign is advocating for Corporate Accountability legislation here in Ireland. 

Landmark motion for Palestine passes through Dáil Eireann

In 2021 Ireland become the first EU parliament to pass a motion that condemned Israel’s ‘de facto annexation’ of Palestinian territory as a violation of the fundamental principle of international law. 

For more than 50 years, Israel has occupied Palestinian territory and last year announced their intention to permanently claim, or annex under Israeli law, this Palestinian land.

Following this landmark motion, we asked the Irish Government to build on the cross-party support for further action. Now is the time for Ireland to adopt meaningful accountability measures to end the dispossession, humiliation, and systematic subjugation of the Palestinian people, in line with international human rights law. This includes progressing the Occupied Territories Bill which would prohibit the entry to Ireland of any services or products emanating from illegally occupied land. 

Looking ahead 

As always, Trócaire will continue to support the poorest people in the world to achieve change locally, while also campaigning to challenge the root causes and global rules that prevent people from living lives free from poverty, injustice, gender inequality and human rights abuses.

Despite all of the challenges presented in 2021, Trocaire – with the support of Irish Aid and other donors, and with the extraordinary generosity of the Irish public – worked with local partners to help change the lives of 2.7 million people in 25 countries last year, tackling the root causes of poverty, injustice and violence.

As we look to the New Year hope will remain. Thank you for being with us on our journey for justice.

I wish you and your families a happy and peaceful 2022.

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