Laying out the law
Q: What do human rights law have to do with business?
A: Many people associate human rights law with situations where people are tortured, imprisoned without trial or prohibited from expressing themselves. But, in the last 20 years, there has been much focus on the way businesses interact with human rights law.
This focus comes from the ever-increasing role large businesses play in all societies as well as from their ever-growing influence on governments and people in general. There are lots of examples from around the world of businesses abusing human rights. In some countries, including Ireland, weaknesses in the legal system, little regulation and a strong desire to attract investment and create jobs have seen many instances of human rights abuses. Fundamental human rights are often abused in the race to cut costs and increase profits and dividends for shareholders. Abuses are carried out by many businesses, including some large, well-known multinationals behind common high profile brands.
Last year, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted new guiding principles on the relationship between business and human rights. These guidelines focused on three separate areas:
(a) States’ existing obligations to respect, protect and fulfil human rights and fundamental freedoms;
(b) Requirements of businesses to comply with all applicable laws and to respect human rights;
(c) The need for rights and obligations to be matched to appropriate and effective remedies when breached.
The above Guiding Principles apply to all business enterprises, both international and others, regardless of their size, sector, location, ownership and structure. The first principal explains that states, such as Ireland, have a duty to put in place the laws that will protect people from abuses carried out by businesses. The second says that businesses have a responsibility to ensure that their actions respect human rights. The third focuses on the need for businesses and states to ensure that, where violations do occur, that victims will have access to redress such as compensation.
Although Irish businesses contribute to human rights by abiding by Irish employment law, health and safety laws etc, occasions do exist where Irish businesses operating here are potentially violating human rights.
The UN guiding principles have not yet been promoted or implemented by the Irish Government but, in so far as they represent an opportunity to help strengthen the human rights of people in Ireland or those affected by the actions of Irish businesses overseas, it is hoped they will have a huge impact on the Irish political agenda into the near future.
This article is for information purposes only and does not constitute specific legal advice, which should be obtained at all times. For more information, contact Eamon Concannon of Concannon Solicitors on 091-744 567 (after office hours on 086- 3297221) or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.