Thursday, 8 February 2024
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
11. To ask the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if his attention has been brought to a recently published report (details supplied) which outlined that over half of the 50 largest companies in the Irish economy scored 30% or less on corporate uptake of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5479/24]
My question relates to the snapshot of large firms operating in Ireland as regards human rights principles. Some 50 of the largest companies operating in the Irish economy scored 30% or lower. Indeed, five semi-State companies scored less than one out of a possible 24.
I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. I am aware of the recently published report and its findings. Indeed, I had hoped to provide an opening address at the launch of the report but, unfortunately, I was not able to be there on the day. At the launch of the 2020 benchmarking report, I said that the report was a valuable baseline for many Irish companies and that still holds true today. It is vital that we have such benchmarking exercises and reports available to help businesses understand their human rights responsibilities.
While we may not have seen the progress wanted since the publication of the last report, it is quite evident that we are seeing a shift with more businesses wanting to know what they need to do to operate responsibly. These businesses are utilising the United Nations guiding principles and the OECD guidelines for multinational enterprises on responsible business conduct. I am encouraged by the proactive engagement of many businesses but I do recognise that a lot more needs to be done to ensure that a wider base of businesses are increasing their scores.
Voluntary initiatives play a role but the calls for mandatory measures have also been listened to with the EU introducing a number of initiatives, many of which relate to respecting human rights. As we continue to transition into an environment that has a smart mix of voluntary and mandatory measures, we will need to help businesses understand their obligations under the initiatives and ensure we foster an environment that protects human rights.
In that regard, communication is key. That is why my Department created a responsible business forum last year. Key business representative bodies participate in the forum, which discusses the various initiatives with a view to providing coherent, pertinent and timely information to those impacted by the changes from the introduction of mandatory measures and, importantly, to also consider the opportunities.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and my Department are also in the process of developing a second national action plan on business and human rights. The new plan will build on the achievements of the first national plan taking account of the significant developments in the legislative and institutional landscape. As the Deputy will be aware, there is still plenty of work to do in this space.
I thank the Minister for the response and the communication. We need to improve the implementation. We had a plan that was in being, which theoretically was a good plan, but is out of date since 2020 and we are now in 2024. I would like a date for the next plan. I would like clarification on the stakeholders' forum. Has it sat again and if not when will it sit? I would like to know if the plan will be more focused in goals and timelines. Let us look specifically at what Mary Lawlor has said in relation to this. Mary Lawlor the UN special rapporteur calls on Ireland to take a leadership role and calls for mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence. Others have also called for this such as the Irish Coalition for Business and Human Rights. In Ireland the ESB is using coal from north-east Colombia, despite the well-documented human rights abuses associated with the operation of the mine. Airbus Ireland allows tourism businesses based in Israeli settlements to use its platforms to advertise their services, and so on. I am out of time, but the Minister can see the importance of having a plan and timed dates for implementation.
We have started laying the foundations for completing a public consultation and we held the first stakeholder forum meeting in December last year. These important steps are helping to create a viable pathway forward to create a second plan, which I accept is necessary. The last plan is now out of date. While there is still a lot of good stuff in it we do need to update that plan. We need a second plan and I hope to be able to publish a second plan later this year.