Companies in Ireland criticised over foreign human rights issues

Colombians ‘ask that we question the energy we consume, where does it come from?’

Many large European companies, including some based in Ireland, have been linked to serious human rights and environmental harms through their supply chains and global operations, the Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence has been told.

Included was the ESB which, for over two decades, "has imported millions of tonnes of coal from the Cerrejón mine (in Colombia), despite years of extremely serious human rights abuses and environmental harms associated with it. Since 2001, it has provided the bulk of the coal burned at Moneypoint power plant in Co Clare," said Conor O'Neill of Christian Aid Ireland.

“Our Colombian partners rightly ask that we question the energy we consume, where does it come from, how does it get here?” he said. It was “not consistent with ESB’s obligations under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights,” he said.

There was also “the case of a Palestinian man, Awni Shaaeb, whose farmland in the occupied West Bank was seized by Israeli settlers, and a settlement established on it.This is illegal under international law.”


However, “any of us can this afternoon log onto, and book a holiday rental in the illegal settlement built on his family’s land. Those bookings are made through Airbnb Ireland, based in Dublin’s Docklands.” Israeli citizens and international tourists “can pay to stay there, but Palestinians are effectively prohibited,” he said.

Garry Walsh of Trócaire told Committee members that the key to addressing such buses "is to move beyond voluntary commitments towards legally binding regulation. This would be the most effective way to systematically address these issues, such as in the cases that we've heard about in Colombia and Palestine. "

Ireland's approach, he said, had "largely relied on promoting voluntary measures rather than progressing binding legislation." However, a recent Trinity College study "showed that of the top 60 companies in Ireland, as well as Ireland's 10-largest state-owned enterprises, 34 per cent scored zero on embedding respect for human rights in their operations."

Recent developments across Europe showed "a clear shift now towards firmer binding legal requirements. France, Germany, and Norway have all introduced legislation for mandatory human rights due diligence across supply chains," he said.

“We believe that developing strong Irish legislation should be the priority,” making it “mandatory for companies to undertake human rights and environmental due diligence. Such a legal duty should cover all Irish business,” he said.

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is a contributor to The Irish Times