LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Ireland’s Catholic international development agency is calling for a legally binding global treaty governing business and human rights.

The 2019 Lenten Appeal of Trócaire – the Irish bishops’ equivalent to Catholic Relief Services – is urging support for people left landless in the developing world by focusing on corporate responsibility, especially from transnational corporations operating in the developing world.

Caoimhe de Barra, CEO of Trócaire, said the human rights framework governing businesses “has not kept pace with the modern economy.”

From 2002-2012, there was an estimated ten-fold increase in metal exploration in low- and middle-income countries. Investments in fossil fuels has doubled in the same period.

In addition, millions of acres have been leased for agriculture, mostly by companies and investment funds, mostly in Africa.

According to the United Nations, 15 million people are forced to leave their homes and land every year to make way for large development and business projects, such as the construction of hydroelectric dams, mines and oil and gas installations, or luxury resorts for tourism.

“We live in a globalized world, where business knows no border. Countries, particularly in the developing world, compete for investment from companies often richer and more powerful than they are. The world’s top 10 corporations have a combined revenue equivalent to more than the 180 ‘poorest’ countries,” de Barra said.

The development agency issued a 60-page report, Making a Killing: Holding Corporations to Account for Land and Human Rights Violations, which documents how the “corporate race for natural resources has put millions of people around the world at risk of exploitation and abuse.”

“This report marks the start of a new Trócaire campaign calling for a legally binding global treaty governing business and human rights. We believe this is urgently needed to protect the world’s poorest people and ensure their rights are not discarded in the hunt for profits,” the charity’s head said.

According to de Barra, “devastating human rights violations will continue to occur with impunity unless we move beyond voluntary approaches and bring in a legally binding treaty on business and human rights.”

Trócaire’s report highlights how people in developing countries are not being protected:

– In 2018 alone, at least 247 people were murdered in the developing world for defending land and indigenous rights.

– Since 2015, more than 1400 human rights activists have been attacked for their work linked to corporate actions.

– Only 27 percent of companies perform risk assessments directly linked to human rights.

– Only 17 percent of companies conduct impact assessments linked to human rights.

The report notes that the United Nations calls human rights due diligence “a process that a company should follow in order to identify, prevent, mitigate and account for how it addresses its adverse human rights impacts.”

This includes assessing actual and potential human rights impacts; integrating and acting on those findings; tracking responses; and communicating about how impacts are addressed.

This due diligence should include investigating a supply chain and procurement activities.

The report also draws attention to the unique problems faced by women in securing their rights in developing countries.

“Women face multiple barriers in accessing and benefiting from natural resources, including inadequate legal standards and implementation of laws, discriminatory social norms and attitudes in relation to their roles, and exclusion from participation in decision-making,” it says. “Women are more affected by land tenure insecurity due to direct and indirect discriminatory laws and practices at the national, community and family level, including land and property deprivation by kin or state.”

Every Lent, Trócaire distributes collection boxes through parishes and schools to raise money.

These boxes have become part of the cultural identity of Ireland and are a common site in homes across the island. Millions of dollars are raised each year for the development campaign during the penitential season.

This year, the box features the stories of three families – from Guatemala, Uganda and Syria – each of whom has lost land as a result of corporate action, war, or because they are women.

“The three young girls on this year’s Trócaire box show three different faces of a global problem,” said de Barra. “The world’s poorest people need access to land and natural resources to lift themselves out of poverty, but too often their rights are ignored or trampled upon.”

According to the Trócaire report, the international corporations involved in these actions are rarely held to account.

“Corporations wield major economic and political power, often aligning with the interests of states or powerful political decision-makers, resulting in a lack of regulation in order to keep and attract investment. Victims can find it difficult to access remedy in the host state (where the violation occurred) and in the corporation’s home state. This includes the difficulty of holding a parent company accountable for actions of a subsidiary and legal obstacles used to defeat extraterritorial claims. Corporations avoid liability when their subsidiaries are involved in human rights abuses,” the document reads.

The aid agency said as long as corporations are able to avoid accountability, “they can keep operating at the expense of human rights.”