IBA announces publication of updated guidance on business and human rights for lawyers

Friday 1 December 2023

The International Bar Association (IBA) Business and Human Rights Committee (‘Committee’) and the IBA Legal Policy & Research Unit (LPRU) have announced the release of the 2023 Updated IBA Guidance Note on Business and Human Rights: The role of lawyers in the changing landscape (Updated Guidance). Read this in German, Chinese and French.


In 2016, the IBA Practical Guide on Business and Human Rights for Business Lawyers was 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. It 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.

In 2023, relevance of the UNGPs to the legal profession has rapidly increased, as evidenced by many 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 Updated Guidance seeks to provide lawyers with insight into the UNGPs and other standards between 2016 to now and reflects on the hardening of soft law during this time.

Over the last 18 months work has been underway to update and simplify the 2016 IBA Guidance on Business and Human Rights for Business Lawyers by a small group of expert lawyers – listed at the end of the document. This Updated Guidance was drafted in English and is being translated into Arabic, Chinese (Mandarin), French, German, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish. It received approval from the IBA Bar Issues Commission earlier this year. Following this, during the 2023 IBA Annual Conference in Paris, France the IBA Council unanimously endorsed and approved the Updated Guidance for release. This work falls within the scope of the wider IBA Gatekeepers Project.

The business respect for human rights derives from the UNGPs, which the UN Human Rights Council unanimously endorsed in 2011. The IBA facilitated a consultation process mid-year, in 2023, to inform the contents of this Updated Guidance, and to ensure it is genuinely accessible and useful to IBA members and lawyers all around the world.

Stéphane Brabant, Chair of the Drafting Group, says of the Updated Guidance: ‘The enactment of mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence requires all businesses, including law firms, to adapt. As soft law hardens and broadens, and ESG [Environmental, Social, and Governance] principles increasingly influence investment decisions, the Updated IBA Guidance helps lawyers contribute to the business respect for human rights. The enactment of laws requiring due diligence and reporting with extraterritorial impact makes it essential for all lawyers, in many different disciplines, to help their business clients navigate the complexity of these new laws. The goal of the culturally diverse group of expert lawyers who prepared the Updated IBA Guidance was to demystify this new practice area and make it accessible to all lawyers worldwide.’

John Sherman, a leading authority on the UNGPs and a key drafter of the 2016 and 2023 IBA Guidance documents, puts it this way: ‘What is soft law today may likely be hard law tomorrow. Therefore, 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.’

For further information, contact Sara.Carnegie@int-bar.org and Lara.Douvartzidis@int-bar.org.


Notes to the Editor

  1. Click here to download the 2023 Updated IBA Guidance Note on Business and Human Rights: The role of lawyers in the changing landscape.
  2. Click here to download the 2016 IBA Practical Guide on Business and Human Rights for Business Lawyers.
  3. Click here to download the 2016 Reference Annex to the IBA Practical Guide on Business and Human Rights for Business Lawyers.
  4. The International Bar Association (IBA), the global voice of the legal profession, is the foremost organisation for international legal practitioners, bar associations and law societies. Established in 1947, shortly after the creation of the United Nations, with the aim of protecting and promoting the rule of law globally, the IBA was born out of the conviction that an organisation made up of the world's bar associations could contribute to global stability and peace through the administration of justice. The IBA acts as a connector, enabler, and influencer, for the administration of justice, fair practice, and accountability worldwide. The IBA has collaborated on a broad range of ground-breaking, international projects with the United Nations, the European Parliament, the Council of Europe, The Commonwealth, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, among others.
  5. Find the IBA on social media here:

For further information, please contact:

Romana St. Matthew - Daniel
Press Office
International Bar Association

5 Chancery Lane
London WC2A 1LG
United Kingdom

Mobile: +31 (0) 70 737 0686
Direct Line: +44 (0)20 7842 0094
Main Office: +44 (0)20 7842 0090
Fax: +44 (0)20 7842 0091

Email: romana.daniel@int-bar.org
Email: IBApressoffice@int-bar.org
Website: www.ibanet.org

IBA website page link for this news release:

Short link: www.tinyurl.com/yc4tfyya

Full link: www.ibanet.org/IBA-announces-publication-of-updated-guidance-on-business-and-human-rights-for-lawyers