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Thursday 7 December 2023 Dublin: 10°C
Shutterstock/Sundry Photography The fashion industry is responsible for 8-10% of global emissions.

Barry Andrews From spyware to SHEIN, Ireland’s business reputation is now in the crosshairs

The Irish MEP says Ireland is fast becoming the ‘best little country’ for controversial brands to set up shop in.

IRELAND’S POLICY OF welcoming companies with poor human rights records stands at odds with the way that we portray ourselves in the world.

A recent US House of Representatives Select Committee report concluded that Chinese company, Temu conducts “no audits” and that it “does not expressly prohibit third-party sellers from selling products based on their origin in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region.”

The report went on to say that there is an “extremely high risk that Temu’s supply chains are contaminated with forced labour.”

Most Irish readers will be shocked to find out that PDD Holdings Ltd, the parent company of Temu, recently filed its annual report stating that it had moved its global headquarters to St. Stephens Green in Dublin in November 2022. Temu is one of the largest online shopping platforms in the world, second only to SHEIN.

‘Best little country’

When it comes to the companies we welcome into Ireland, we do not always apply a standard that is appropriate to our image as an outspoken defender of human rights.

The companies that are welcomed with open arms by Government ministers in Dublin are sometimes those that also use forced labour, cause environmental damage and actively work against what we stand for.

Ireland has positioned itself as an attractive destination for multinational corporations seeking a foothold in Europe. However, this pursuit of economic growth and tax revenue has started to come at a cost, as Ireland’s reputation becomes tarnished by its willingness to welcome companies that do not uphold human rights in their value chains.

Other examples abound. SHEIN announced its new EMEA headquarters in Dublin in May. Intellexa Ltd, a company that sells surveillance software to autocratic authorities around the world has an office in Ulysses House on Foley Street, just behind the Custom House in the centre of Dublin.

In addition to the congressional findings about Temu, a 2022 Channel 4 documentary on SHEIN highlighted that employees were working up to 18 hours a day and were being “paid as little as 4c per item made.” Intellexa has sold its Predator software to the Rapid Support Forces in Sudan, one player in the ongoing civil war which has left millions displaced.

‘We’re the good guys’

As the Consultative Forum on International Security Policy has shown over the last few weeks, Ireland likes to think of itself as one of the good guys on the international stage. Our foreign policy is focused on issues such as peacebuilding, conflict prevention, nuclear disarmament and protecting the multilateral system.

The Department of Foreign Affairs has recently reaffirmed “promoting our values” is one of its central priorities. Ireland has crafted multiple agreements in the United Nations, including the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In September, Ireland will be acting as the lead negotiator on a political declaration on the status of SDGs at their mid-way point at the global SDG Summit in New York. These are all to be welcomed.

With Ireland as the global or European headquarters of controversial global brands, the Irish treasury directly benefits from the suffering of others, the destruction of ecosystems and the perpetuation of global inequality.

It is also the Irish reputation that suffers. As the well-known adage goes: with great power comes great responsibility. By turning a blind eye to the actions of these companies, Ireland risks becoming complicit in their unethical practices, which stands in complete juxtaposition to Sustainable Development Goal 12: Responsible Consumption and Production. This complicity not only undermines Ireland’s own commitment to human rights, but also sends a message to the world that Ireland values economic prosperity over the fundamental rights and well-being of individuals.

To ensure Ireland’s reputation is not affected and to address this ethical dilemma, a multi-faceted approach is needed. The Irish government must prioritise the integration of human rights considerations into its foreign investment policies.

The EU’s Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive (CSDDD) and the Ban on Forced Labour Products will ensure that companies seeking to establish a presence in Ireland must adhere to internationally recognised human rights standards throughout their value chains.

I implore the Irish government to ensure that they are effectively implemented. By prioritising human rights considerations, fostering transparency, and actively engaging in partnerships, Ireland can maintain its global reputation and avoid any hypocrisy.

Barry Andrews is MEP for Dublin and co-negotiator of the EU’s proposed Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive. 


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