52% of the 50 largest companies in the Irish economy scored 30% or less in the latest Irish business and human rights benchmark report published by the Trinity Centre for Social Innovation.
The report, Irish Businesses and Human Rights: A snapshot of large firms operating in Ireland, assesses the human rights performance of 50 of the largest publicly listed companies operating in Ireland and 10 of the largest semi-states using the internationally recognised Corporate Human Rights Benchmark methodology. It was launched on Wednesday, January 17th at an event in Trinity Business School.
The benchmark report assesses 2022-23 data, examining firms’ human rights policies, due diligence and access to remedies based on publicly available documents produced by the companies. It provides a transparent measure of a firm’s disclosure of their approach to human rights.
The report found that corporate uptake of the UN Guiding Principles for Business & Human Rights (UNGPs) remains a work in progress, with 52% (26) of companies assessed scoring 30% or less of the available points in this benchmark, 86% of the top 50 sample scoring less than 50%, and 32% scoring below 20%.
However, despite stricter criteria six companies — Adobe Inc., DCC plc, Electricity Supply Board, Experian plc, Meta Platforms, Inc and AIB Group plc — increased their score by five points or more on the last benchmarking report, which was conducted in 2020.
Dr Maximilian Schormair, Prof. Mary-Lee Rhodes, Dr Benn Hogan, Prof. Mary Lawlor and Dean Laurent Muzellec
Commenting on the report Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Simon Coveney said:
“This benchmarking report comes at an importance juncture in the road of business and human rights. While I note there has been progress by some companies which shows it is feasible to make positive changes, I recognise that more needs to be done to ensure more businesses understand the importance of protecting human rights.
“With the introduction of key EU legislative measures, businesses within scope will have legal obligations to adhere to. In addition, the Government is in the process of developing a second National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights. This second plan will build on the achievements of the first plan and play a pivotal role helping to guide businesses to understand their human rights responsibilities.”
Professor ML Rhodes, co-Director of the Trinity Centre for Social Innovation, and one of the authors of the report, explained:
“The 2023 edition of the Irish Business and Human Rights benchmark report is a wake-up call to Irish industry and government to attend to the vital work of incorporating the UN Guiding Principles for Business & Human Rights into their policies and practices. 86% of the top 50 companies in the sample scored below 50% — which falls far short of what is needed. With EU legislation coming soon that will require firms to up their performance in this area, this report should be required reading for Irish-based executives and policy makers in 2024.”
Mary Lawlor, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders and Adjunct Professor at the Trinity Centre for Social Innovation, who also co-authored the report added: “In a country with such a strong human rights ethos as Ireland, it's quite a jolt that so many of our biggest companies are disregarding their human rights responsibilities. They need to do better, and they can start by speaking with human rights defenders who often bear the brunt of this disregard."
At the launch of the report core insights of the benchmarking report were presented by lead author Benn Hogan, Visiting Researcher, Trinity Centre for Social Innovation. This presentation was followed by a panel discussion featuring Mary Whitelaw, Director of Sustainability AIB Group plc and Liam McKenna, Head of ESG, Mazars Ireland, focusing on the implications of the benchmarking report for Irish businesses and expected regulatory developments in Ireland and the EU.
Professor Laurent Muzellec, Dean of Trinity Business School added:
“Trinity Business School’s strategy of ‘Transforming Business for Good’ is deeply interconnected with the critical findings of the Trinity Centre for Social Innovation report on corporate human rights practices in Ireland. This report, assessing major companies through the Corporate Human Rights Benchmark, highlights a crucial aspect of corporate responsibility. As we advocate for sustainable and ethical business practices, this report serves as a reminder of our responsibility to lead and inspire change, ensuring businesses not only prosper but also contribute positively to society and uphold human rights.”
At the event Trinity Business School also unveiled Trinity Business School Executive Education’s latest micro-credential course — Business & Human Rights: Principles and Practices. This course aims to raise awareness about the UN Guiding Principles for Business & Human Rights (UNGPs) and the state of Irish companies’ engagement with these.
The report, Irish Businesses and Human Rights: A snapshot of large firms operating in Ireland, authored by Benn Hogan, Mary-Lee Rhodes, Maximilian Schormair and Mary Lawlor is available to view on the Trinity Centre for Social Innovation website here.
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