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Business and human rights

Contacts

There is increasing pressure on businesses to take steps to ascertain, manage and account for their human rights impacts and explain how they are doing this. This pressure is taking on a more obvious legal dimension, as notions of moral and ethical responsibility begin to transform into harder edged legal duties, predominantly through legislative and regulatory developments, and litigation.

At national level, legislation has been enacted or is being considered in major jurisdictions aimed at improving corporate reporting on human rights issues and at introducing mandatory human rights due diligence. Examples include the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act mandating public disclosures on company websites detailing efforts to prevent human rights violations in the supply chain, the 2013 amendments to the 2006 UK Companies Act requiring directors to include information on human rights in their strategic reports, the UK Modern Slavery Act 2015 and the EU Directive 2014/95 regarding the disclosure of non-financial and diversity information by certain large undertakings and groups.

We advise clients on compliance with human rights laws, as well as the principal international frameworks containing human rights requirements for businesses, including the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, IFC Performance Standards, and the Equator Principles.

We combine a deep knowledge of this emerging regulatory framework with wide-ranging experience of best practice in business ethics compliance. Our approach is holistic: alongside the client, we work to deliver human rights management systems which address every aspect of legal, reputational and operational risk.

Our areas of work

  • due diligence and impact assessments
  • policy development
  • human rights training
  • compliance with international and domestic law
  • corporate reporting requirements
  • human rights related complaints
  • internal investigations.

Engagement in the business and human rights community

  • We have undertaken a human rights due diligence project in collaboration with the British Institute of International and Comparative Law with the aim of producing practical recommendations for businesses in relation to their approach to human rights due diligence. Through this project, we acquired market-leading experience in this area. The results of our project were launched on 17 October 2016.
  • Members of our team participated in a panel on business and human rights due diligence at the 2015 UN Forum in Geneva and will host a panel during the 2016 UN Forum about whether corporate group structures preclude liability for human rights impacts.
  • Members of our team regularly guest lecture to post-graduate law students enrolled at University College London on the subject of business and human rights.
  • We are founder members of the University College London Centre for Ethics and Law.
  • We participated in the working group (led by The Shift Project and Mazars LLP) developing the UN Guiding Principles Assurance Framework.
  • We are actively engaged in national business ethics bodies, such as the UK Institute of Business Ethics and the French Cercle d’Ethique des Affaires.
  • Milana Chamberlain is a member of the Human Rights Law Committee of the International Bar Association

Our recent experience

  • Advising various clients from diverse industry backgrounds and jurisdictions on the preparation of statements under the UK Modern Slavery Act (MSA) 2015. This has involved carrying out jurisdictional analyses on which group companies have an obligation to report; carrying out a gap analysis on clients’ human resources policies and supplier charters with regard to slavery and human trafficking; advising on the necessary preparatory risk assessment and due diligence work both at the clients internally and also on their external supply chains; preparing explanatory memoranda for the relevant boards of directors on their obligations under the MSA; and advising on human rights-based contractual clauses, codes of conduct and MSA statements.
  • Conducting a large-scale policy and procedure review and benchmarking exercise for a large listed UK manufacturing company, to assess compliance with best practice and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.
  • Advising companies in response to complaints made to the UK’s National Contact Point, established pursuant to the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.
  • Advising a global mining company regarding human rights, social impact and community issues in connection with a legal due diligence exercise concerning the acquisition of a company operating in high risk African jurisdictions.
  • Delivering bespoke training on business and human rights to various clients, including large energy companies and export credit agencies.