International Bar Association Releases Guidance for Lawyers on the U.N. Guiding Principles

International Bar Association Conference on Law and Corporate Social ResponsibilityThe Business and Human Rights Working Group of the International Bar Association (“IBA”) recently released draft guidance for bar association and business lawyers on implementation of the U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (“the U.N. Guiding Principles”).

As stated in a press release by the IBA, the intent of the draft guidance for bar associations is to:

  • encourage bar associations to improve understanding of the relevance and applicability of business and human rights principles;
  • urge bar associations to develop strategies for integrating the U.N. Guiding Principles into the practice of law;
  • provide information to heighten awareness of the implications of the U.N. Guiding Principles; and to
  • serve as a training tool for current and future legal professionals.

The Executive Summary of the guidance for business lawyers, which is an annex to the guidance for bar associations, notes that it is intended to assist lawyers in:

  • understanding the content of the U.N. Guiding Principles;
  • exploring the ways in which the U.N Guiding Principles may be relevant to the advice and other services that they provide to business clients; and
  • recognizing the relevance of the U.N. Guiding Principles for laws firms as business enterprises.

The guidance for business lawyers specifically explores:

  • the relationship of the U.N. Guiding Principles to national law;
  • how failure to manage human rights rights can create increase a client’s legal risk exposure;
  • the extent to which the expectations set forth in the U.N. Guiding Principles are aligned with legal professional codes of conduct; and
  • the ways in which the advice of lawyers may enable their clients to operate with respect for human rights in key practice areas, including reporting and disclosure; contracts and agreements; and dispute resolution and non-judicial grievance mechanisms.

At time of the guidance was released, at an event titled “We’re all Human Rights Lawyers now – the Convergence of Business and Human Rights and What It Means for You,” at the IBA Annual Conference in October, IBA President Michael Reynold stated,

In recognizing the essential role that lawyers play in upholding the rule of law, and that they can provide advice on human rights in client business transactions in a manner that greatly enhances the value of their legal services, the IBA Guidance aims to support the development of a global strategy for the integration of the Principles into legal practice. …The promotion of integrity standards and the rule of law are at the core of the work of the IBA, and through our leadership we intend to mobilize the legal profession to take affirmative steps to integrate the Guiding Principles in the services they provide to their clients.

Over the coming year, the IBA Business and Human Rights Working Group intends to solicit input on the guidance from bar associations and other interested stakeholders.

Ideally, this new guidance will help facilitate conversations within both bar associations and law firms about the role of all lawyers — not just lawyers that are specialists in business and human rights — in ensuring that all business enterprises operate with respect for human rights.

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