IBA issues ground-breaking Practical Guide on Business and Human Rights for Business Lawyers

The International Bar Association (IBA) has endorsed groundbreaking guidance for business lawyers on how to practise law with respect for human rights. On 28 May 2016, the IBA Council, the organisation’s governing body, voted 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 without charge at 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 setsout 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.’

While developing the IBA Practical Guide the IBA Business and Human Rights Working Group andtheIBA Legal Policy & Research Unit (LPRU) consulted numerous IBA committees, bar associations, law societies, individual lawyers, civil society organisations, academics and corporations. Three in-depth in-country consultations were conducted by the IBA LPRU, in collaboration with the Bar Associations of Spain, Costa Rica and Namibia. At the 2015 Annual Conference in Vienna, the IBA Council approved the IBA Guidance for Bar Associations on Business and Human Rights, which encouraged bars to develop more training and education on the UNGPs.

Chair of the Working Group and Shift General Counsel, Senior Advisor and Secretary, John F Sherman IIIcommented: ‘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.

Click here to read the IBA Practical Guide on Business and Human Rights for Business Lawyers tinyurl.com/hm3y9hu

Click here to read the IBA Council Resolutionon the IBA Practical Guide on Business and Human Rights for Business Lawyers. tinyurl.com/he3nlun



(1)    For information about the IBALPRU’s work in the area on Business and Human Rights for the Legal Profession visit tinyurl.com/hq2wm9n www.ibanet.org/Legal_Projects_Team/Business_and_Human_Rights_for_the_Legal_Profession.aspx

(2)   The members of the IBA Working Group are: John Sherman III (Chair), Nicole Bigby, Stephane Brabant, Umit Herguner, Robert Heslett, Tatsu Katayama, Isabel Jiménez Mancha, Carmen Pombo Morales, Horacio Bernardes-Neto, Deborah Enix-Ross, Andrea Saldarriaga Deidre Sauls.

(3)   The IBALPRU was formerly titled the IBA Legal Projects Team.

(4)    The International Bar Association (IBA), established in 1947, is the world’s leading organisation of international legal practitioners, bar associations and law societies. Through its global membership of individual lawyers, law firms, bar associations and law societies, it influences the development of international law reform and shapes the future of the legal profession throughout the world.

The IBA’s administrative office is in London. Regional offices are located in: São Paulo, Brazil; Seoul, South Korea; and Washington, DC, US; while the International Bar Association’s International Criminal Court and International Criminal Law Programme (ICC & ICL) is managed from an office in The Hague, the Netherlands.

The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) works to promote, protect and enforce human rights under a just rule of law, and to preserve the independence of the judiciary and the legal profession worldwide.

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