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Irish activists campaign at the UN for corporate accountability

31 October 2019

The voices of Irish people who are concerned about human rights and the corporate abuse of power were heard loud and clear at the United Nations in Geneva earlier this month. Nation states gathered to negotiate a new agreement to plug the gaps in international law which would hold companies to account for human rights violations.

Trócaire activists with Donald Hernandez (centre), director of CEHPRODEC, one of Trócaire’s partners in Honduras. Photo: Jeannie McCann

I was part of a group of Irish activists who observed the negotiations of the UN Treaty on Business and Human Rights and spoke directly to representatives of the Irish and UK Governments. We amplified the voices of the 8,163 people from across Ireland who took action urging our governments to support this process.

Our collective action made an impact! Representatives from both governments attended the negotiations and will bring back our demands for a strong treaty to their respective government.

Irish activists marched through the streets of Geneva with activists from around the world, from Peru to Palestine, demanding corporate accountability. Together we chanted: “So-so-so solidarité, avec les peoples du monde entier, solidarité” / “Solidarity, with the people of the entire world, solidarity”. 

Trócaire activist Tony Devlin. Credit: Jeannie McCann

In the UN chamber, we heard statements from states, experts and civil society organisations, and grappled with protocol, jargon and acronyms. 

Indigenous peoples and women

Time and again, the most powerful contributions came from indigenous peoples and women whose human rights are trampled on in the race for profit. Increasingly human rights defenders face beatings, intimidation, imprisonment and even murder for peacefully resisting the exploitation of natural resources.

“This Treaty is very important for our communities that suffer at the hands of corporations and states in the name of profit, and for human rights defenders who risk their lives to speak up. I think the EU Member States should also speak up and support the Treaty to protect our communities from transnational corporations,” said Donald Hernandez, director of CEHPRODEC, one of Trócaire’s partners in Honduras.   

Teresa Hill, a Trócaire activist from Belfast, said: “Listening to the accounts from people who have had their rights violated by corporations and how their lives would be positively affected by the binding treaty, it really hit home why we were there campaigning.”

Inspired and energised

Gráinne O'Callaghan, a Trócaire activist from Dublin, said: “I feel inspired by the resilient human rights defenders that I met, who put their lives on the line every day across the world to defend their communities, indigenous peoples and the environment against corporate power.”

Jim Cremin, a Trócaire activist from Cork, said: “To come to know these front line activists is powerfully motivating. I am energised to make their story heard.” 

Trócaire activists outside the UN in Geneva. Photo: Jeannie McCann

Our biggest take away from the trip is the urgency with which this Treaty is needed. The Amazon is burning. The violence inflicted on communities is increasing. Yet business profits are soaring.

Progress was made on the revised draft of the Treaty but much more needs to be done. Ireland and the UK must take responsibility to develop a strong position on it and to hold national consultations on this important issue.

We return home with fire in our bellies to continue to campaign for our governments to champion a treaty that ensures human rights are always prioritised over profits.

Learn more about Trócaire’s Business & Human Rights campaign here. https://www.trocaire.org/business-and-human-rights

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