A different vision
The corporate abuses happening during the pandemic are a sharp reminder of the need for legally binding regulation of business. Respecting human rights should not be voluntary or optional.
However, we now have a unique moment where change may be possible. Plans for recovery after COVID-19 provide an opportunity to build a sustainable business model that is centred in human rights.
Rather than standing by while unscrupulous companies take advantage of the pandemic, this is a moment for states to ensure that responsible business conduct is rewarded. Those that profit from human rights and environmental violations should be held to account.
In recent months, we have had a chance to see the world with a new perspective. We have heard political leaders espousing the need for solidarity, for public health provision and for the importance of a strong welfare state. In this spirit, it is now time for states to stop irresponsible businesses that are harming communities and the environment.
Thankfully, many states are already moving in this direction. France has a law to ensure corporations respect human rights and the environment in all their overseas operations. A range of other European countries look to be following suit.
The European Commission has committed to legislation that would protect human rights and the environment. This would be done through what is called human rights and environmental due diligence. This would be a mandatory obligation for EU companies.
Human rights due diligence is when a business embeds human rights in its operations. It involves assessing actual and potential human rights impacts, acting upon the findings, tracking responses, and communicating how impacts are addressed. It is simply like human rights proofing and then acting on the findings. If done well, it can have a significant impact on preventing human rights abuses.
Time for Ireland to take action
Trócaire is looking to our Government to move with the EU momentum and develop Irish legislation on human rights due diligence. Putting business and human rights high on the political agenda for this new Government is vitally important and overdue.
Significantly, the new Programme for Government commits to review whether there is a need for greater emphasis on mandatory due diligence in relation to business and human rights. This is a very positive indication, and we need to see action on this commitment.
We have relied on corporations to voluntarily change their practices, while communities on the front lines face forced evictions, pollution of their lands, loss of livelihoods, attacks, smear campaigns and arbitrary detention.
In our recovery from this pandemic, we should change this approach and insist on legally binding regulation.
If we are to Build Back Better, we have to protect the land, environmental and indigenous defenders, who are already protecting all of us.
Learn more and get involved in our ‘Build Back Better’ campaign
Siobhan Curran is Trócaire’s Policy & Advocacy Advisor on Human Rights & Democratic Space