The International Bar Association (IBA) has released an updated guidance note for the global legal profession on business and human rights.
The 2023 Updated IBA Guidance Note on Business and Human Rights: The role of lawyers in the changing landscape has been released by the IBA’s Business and Human Rights Committee and its Legal Policy and Research Unit (LPRU).
The guidance updates previous 2016 guidelines that were issued to assess the implications of the 2011 United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) and related standards for the legal profession.
At the time, the IBA noted the widespread uptake of the UNGPs, their growing importance to states, businesses and civil society, as well as their incorporation into law and impact on legal practice.
The lawyers’ organisation now says that the relevance of the UNGPs to the legal profession has “rapidly increased”.
It cites, as evidence of this, factors such as:
- The enactment of mandatory human-rights due diligence and reporting legislation,
- The extraterritorial effects of such laws,
- The assertion of duty of care,
- Corporate liability and responsibility legal claims based on the UNGPs and related standards running either locally and/or overseas, and
- Recognition of the severe human-rights harm of environmental impacts, such as climate change.
The 2023 update seeks to provide lawyers with insight into the UNGPs and other standards between 2016 to now, and reflects on what it describes as “the hardening of soft law” during this time.
Stéphane Brabant, who chaired the group that drafted the guidance, said that the enactment of mandatory human-rights and environmental due diligence required all businesses – including law firms – to adapt.
John Sherman, a leading authority on the UNGPs and a key drafter of the 2016 and 2023 documents, stated: “Corporate lawyers should not only be technical experts, who advise clients on what they legally can and cannot do.
They should also be wise counsellors, who advise clients on alignment with soft law norms, such as the authoritative UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.”