The International Bar Association (IBA) has endorsed ground-breaking guidance for business lawyers on how to practice law with respect for human rights. On 28 May 2016, the IBA Council, the organisation’s governing body, voted unanimously to adopt the IBA Practical Guide on Business and Human Rights for Business Lawyers (Practical Guide) during its mid-year meeting in Barcelona.
As a service to lawyers everywhere the guide is available to download from the IBA website @ tinyurl.com/hm3y9hu.
In a climate where public demand for businesses to operate responsibly is growing and clients’ demands for understanding the relevance and applicability of human rights principles and legislation to their business operations increase, the IBA Practical Guide is designed to help business lawyers around the world fulfil these demands.
The result of approximately 18 months of research and consultations, the Practical Guide was developed to facilitate the implementation of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), the global standard on business’ responsibility to respect human rights, authored by former Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General, Professor John Ruggie.
IBA President David W Rivkin commented: ‘The IBA’s adoption of the Practical Guide enables lawyers around the world to understand how best they can serve their clients in this new era and meet the responsibilities of their own firms themselves. Through this latest initiative the IBA underlines its continuous commitment to full engagement with the global legal profession, meeting the challenge of a changing world with heightened conscience while safeguarding the integrity of the profession. It is our intention to disseminate the Practical Guide as widely as possible through the Association’s vast international network.’
The Practical Guide responds to growing recognition that the management of risks, including legal risks, means that lawyers need to take human rights into account in their advice and services. The Practical Guide sets out in detail:
- the core content of the UNGPs based on its framework of three core pillars:
- the state duty to protect human rights;
- the corporate responsibility to respect human rights; and
- the role of both states and companies to enable greater access to effective remedy, judicial and non-judicial, for victims of business-related abuses.
- the relevance of the UNGPs to the advice provided to clients by individual lawyers subject to their unique professional standards and rules (whether they are in-house or external counsel acting in their individual capacity or as members of a law firm); and
- the UNGPs’ potential implications for law firms as business entities with a responsibility also to respect human rights.
John Ruggie, the author of the UNGPs, commented, ‘The IBA Practical Guide is a hugely important step for respecting human rights worldwide, given the influence many lawyers have with Boards and CEOs. Corporate lawyers and the IBA contributed significantly to the development of the UN Guiding Principles. I warmly welcome this ‘next step’ guide for lawyers around the world. As states everywhere turn increasingly to transnational soft law instruments to complement national and international black letter law in the field of human rights, companies count on their lawyers to provide them with effective guidance through the complex mix of emerging standards to which they are being held to account. In this novel context, the IBA’s Practical Guide is especially timely and valuable.’
Chair of the Working Group and Shift General Counsel, Senior Advisor and Secretary, John F Sherman III commented: ‘In drafting the Practical Guide, the Working Group’s goal was to demystify the UNGPs for business lawyers and provide them with tools to advise their clients on what it means to respect human rights in their business. This includes guidance on how to navigate the shifting boundaries between human rights hard and soft law. We particularly sought to listen to and address the comments of all stakeholders in the process, and are delighted that the IBA Council has unanimously approved our efforts.’
The Working Group, in collaboration with the IBA LPRU, has also prepared a Reference Annex, which, consistent with the principles of the IBA Practical Guide, will provide further detail and information on the various provisions of the Practical Guide. The Reference Annex will be available on the IBA website in due course. It will be a living document, updated as and when necessary.