There is a growing awareness of the negative impact of business practices that fail to respect human rights, with much publicity in recent years focusing on supply chain risks and abuses. It is especially important for lawyers to be attuned to these issues, as human rights abuses can present legal, financial and reputational risks for clients and have severe consequences when discovered.
As observed by the International Bar Association, law firms are increasingly expected to help their clients identify and manage human rights risks, as well as broader reputational risks that may be associated with them. With human rights constantly evolving and increasingly being reflected in hard law instruments, in-house lawyers are also being asked to play a significant role in managing their company’s strategic and reputational risks, including those that relate to human rights.
To assist lawyers who are involved in advising businesses globally, the International Bar Association Legal Policy and Research Unit (“IBA LPRU”) released a Handbook for Lawyers on Business and Human Rights on 17 July 2017, which provides guidance on how to address human rights risks in relation to certain legal practice areas: corporate mergers, acquisitions and restructuring; and commercial contracts, including supply, distribution and franchise agreements.
To offer further support, the IBA LPRU has also developed a curriculum and training programme for lawyers on business and human rights, which will be piloted this year in Australia, in partnership with the Law Council of Australia. The IBA LPRU will monitor and assess the pilot programme’s impact and areas for potential improvement in hopes of replicating it in other jurisdictions. The author of the Human Rights insight speaks more about the Handbook, as well as the training programme and its future potential.
The author also notes that for initiatives like the IBA LPRU's to succeed in any jurisdiction, the entire legal profession, including legal regulators and bar associations, must be engaged and fully supportive. Hopefully, once this programme is available to other IBA members, leaders in other legal communities, including legal regulators, will support and lobby for its local replication, in addition to drawing upon the Handbook and other similar initiatives to ensure local lawyers are adequately equipped to advise businesses.