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Protests in Brazil to denounce the indiscriminate burning in the Amazon Credit: Rodrigo Jorda / Shutterstock

Business and Human Rights

Irish human rights coalition criticises dilution by EU member states of crucial legislation aimed at ending global corporate exploitation and abuse

  • New EU legislation on preventing human rights harms and environmental damage connected to corporate activities has been watered down at crucial meeting today of EU leaders
  • Ireland overruled by France and other EU member states who voted to water down the proposal

An Irish human rights coalition has criticised EU states for missing a vital opportunity to agree strict new rules aimed at ending human rights and environmental abuses connected to corporate activities.

The Irish Coalition for Business and Human Rights expressed its “deep disappointment” that the text for the new draft Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence directive was weakened in a last-minute push, initiated by France, which gained support from a majority of EU member states. Ireland, represented at the meeting by Minister of State Dara Calleary, was not in favour of the French move.

The weakened text is now adopted and will become the EU Council’s position during the forthcoming negotiations with the Commission and the EU Parliament.

The watered-down text shields companies producing pesticides, weapons or surveillance technology from scrutiny for the harms their products and services create. In addition, the draft law leaves the inclusion of the financial sector in the legislation at the discretion of each member state, which the coalitions claims would lead to market fragmentation and a ‘race to the bottom’.

Coalition members today expressed their concern at the outcome. Trócaire CEO, Caoimhe de Barra, said: “There are serious weaknesses in the draft directive agreed by the EU Member States today that risk it becoming a ‘tickbox’ exercise for companies. As it stands it only applies to 1% of EU businesses, contains some significant loopholes and leaves victims of corporate harm still struggling to seek justice.”

However, she said Minister Dara Calleary should be commended for standing against the efforts by other EU member states to water down this proposal. “He argued for a broader range of business activity to be covered, as well as a greater focus on gender, but he was unfortunately voted down. This is incredibly disappointing for the communities we work with who are on the frontlines of corporate exploitation.”

Oxfam CEO Jim Clarken said: “Although we remain highly concerned about all the loopholes in this draft legislation, it could be said that we are beginning to turn a corner to reforming it. There must not be any exclusion of investment funds from the Directive – which is still a live prospect.

“We were encouraged by Ireland’s words at the European Council today, for the future of our planet and its people, and to protect women from corporate abuse throughout the world. Now it is over to our MEPs to raise the bar of this legislation even higher, to prevent mass carbon emissions by investment funds, and to clean up our act across the globe.”

Karol Balfe, CEO of Action Aid Ireland, said: “Women make up the majority of the workforce in many international value chains, such as garment manufacturing and agriculture. Shockingly the proposed legislation does not recognise this reality. The risk is very much real that the EU will now not live up to its commitment to gender equality, as this legislation fails to take into account women’s rights.”

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