In July 2021, the OLA Sisters Irish Province, in collaboration with other Religious Congregations, co-founded a new Antenna, or branch, of the Africa Europe Faith and Justice Network – AEFJN. In September, the new Antenna decided to join the Irish Coalition on Business and Human Rights (ICBHR) in support of the campaign “Make It Your Business” calling for a UN binding treaty and EU regulation to tackle human rights abuses in the supply chains of big businesses.
Who Are AEFJN?
The Africa Europe Faith and Justice Network, or AEFJN, is an international network of Religious Congregations in Africa and in Europe established in 1988 to promote economic justice between the European Union and sub-Saharan Africa. Motivated by the Gospel Values and enriched by the Social Teaching of the Church, AEFJN’s mission is to be alert wherever political decisions concerning economic relations between Africa and Europe are being made. AEFJN respects the inalienable dignity of all human beings and promotes trade between Africa and Europe that considers human rights, labour rights, decent wages, fair prices, and a fair return for raw materials and agricultural products.
AEFJN brings citizens together to lobby decision-makers both at a national and EU level through “Antenna” groups, supported and guided by the International Secretariat in Brussels. AEFJN consists of about 50 Religious Congregations in Africa and Europe. AEFJN has Antennae in France, Kenya, Mozambique, Spain, Germany, Ireland, Nigeria, Netherlands, Cameroon. Supporting these Antennae, the International Secretariat performs three functions:
- It coordinates African and European Antennae who network with civil society in their respective countries.
- It undertakes advocacy at the EU institutions.
- It conducts research and raises awareness.
An Executive in Rome, drawn from the membership, provides oversight for the International Secretariat in Brussels.
OLA Irish Province Membership of AEFJN
Since their foundation, the Sisters of Our Lady of Apostles have been dedicated to mission ad gentes ad extra, especially to the peoples of Africa. The OLA Sisters stand against the attacks on the Common Good in Africa and are committed to challenging unjust trade relations and exploitation which undermine human flourishing.
The OLA Sisters Irish Province recognise that by working collaboratively with others our collective efforts can become significant. AEFJN is one such collaborative network that offers partnership in promotion of justice, peace and integrity of creation in Africa. As citizens of the European Union, we in Ireland are in a position to undertake advocacy at a European level. AEFJN’s priority is EU policy as it impacts on African countries, and membership of AEFJN provides a valuable source of policy research relating EU policy as it impacts on Africa.
Establishing a New Antenna
While the majority of the European Antennae are declining because of diminishing personnel, the African Antennae are at different stages of their growth. However, AEFJN is premised on cooperation between Antennae in Europe and Africa to bring the grass-roots experience of Religious Congregations, and the communities they serve, to policy-makers in Europe. It is in this context, that we in Ireland have taken the important step of establishing a new Antenna in order to leverage our citizenship of the European Union to advocate for just economic relations.
At the invitation of the AMRI Justice Coordinator, and with the support of the OLA Justice Officer, an open invitation was extended to each of the Religious Congregations in Ireland to a meeting in June 2021 to determine if there was an appetite to establish an Irish Antenna. At the next meeting on 23 July, an Irish Antenna of AEFJN was formally established by representatives of the OLA Sisters, the SMA Fathers, AMRI, the Franciscan Missionaries of the Divine Motherhood, the Mercy Sisters, the Presentation Brothers, the Spiritans, and the Presentation Sisters. The key activities of the Antenna are advocacy and awareness raising. In particular we will strive to:
- Highlight problems in the economic and political relationship between Europe and Africa;
- Reveals policies that cause or exacerbate these problems and do harm;
- And campaign for policy solutions at the national and EU level.
John McGeady, OLA Justice Officer, who had co-chaired the initial meetings with Toni Pyke, AMRI Justice Coordinator, was elected chairperson of the new Antenna for twelve months.
First Campaign: Make It Your Business
On 30 September, the Irish Antenna unanimously agreed to join the Irish Coalition on Business and Human Rights (ICBHR). The campaign, “Make It Your Business”, is calling for both EU legislation and a UN Treaty that would make Irish-based companies accountable for human rights violations in their value chains and require corporations to undertake human rights due diligence. The law would also allow victims to take companies to court in Ireland for damages. The Coalition is made up of a range of NGOs and civil society groups from across Ireland, and is a member of the European Coalition for Corporate Justice. The Coalitions new report, also titled “Make It Your Business”, outlines the need for a new law to hold Irish-based companies to account. You can read the report here: Make_it_your_Business_ICBHR