New IBA GEI report cites environmental social governance as emerging focus for human resources

Thursday 8 June 2023

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The latest report from the International Bar Association Global Employment Institute (IBA GEI) states that employers and governments across the world are paying greater attention to sustainability and the promotion of ethical business. Based on data from lawyers in 55 countries, there is an increased focus on environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG). In the IBA GEI’s Eleventh Annual Global Report (AGR), published today, issues such as environmental responsibility, sustainability and mental health in the workplace are identified as key areas for the human resources (HR) sector.

The report covers trends in HR law during 2021 and early 2022, including the topics of: artificial intelligence (AI) and technology; corruption and whistleblowing; data protection; discrimination; dismissal and retirement; diversity; family-friendly policies and flexible working; temporary and contract work arrangements; stress and mental health; privacy and human rights; sustainability and ethical business; collective bargaining and industrial action; remuneration models including executive remuneration and banking reform; gender pay inequalities; immigration and talent; and the impact of recent political and world events and expected HR challenges.

In 2021, most countries surveyed for the 11th AGR remained preoccupied with issues relating to the COVID-19 pandemic, with employers and governments resorting to the tried and tested measures outlined in the previous AGR. However, in early 2022, respondents reported a decline in pandemic-related issues and a shift in attention towards managing the aftermath of COVID-19.

Todd Solomon, IBA GEI Co-Chair and a partner at McDermott Will & Emery, United States, remarked: ‘As we move into a post-pandemic phase, some challenges will disappear, and others will invariably emerge. In particular, companies in many sectors will be required to integrate adapted working practices and new perceptions of the modern workplace that have been consolidated during the pandemic into a post-pandemic working environment. Building on the observations of previous years, the 11th IBA GEI Annual Global Report provides valuable insights into which HR trends are here to stay.’

In the post-pandemic era, the data from the surveyed lawyers demonstrates corporate social responsibility (CSR) and ESG are two concepts that are becoming increasingly relevant, though approaches vary widely. In Belgium, for example, the government has declared that all company cars must be fully electric by 2026 in order to be tax deductible. In this way, the Belgian government hopes to build up quickly a green car fleet and first successes are reflected in the increased sales of electronic cars. The Taiwanese government has announced that larger companies must set up initiatives to transition to at least ten per cent green energy within five years from 2021. At a workplace level, some countries including Brazil, Chile and the Czech Republic reported a reduction in the use of plastic cups and paper, whilst many Portuguese companies have implemented policies on electricity conservation and recycling.

In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, mental health issues in the workplace have received increased attention amongst those in the HR sector. Two governmental examples are the Latvian government, which has approved a proposal from its Ministry of Health to issue an additional €7 million for the provision of psychological support to the working population, and Ireland which has earmarked an additional €10 million in its 2022 state budget to promote supportive mental health services. Regarding employers, it is reported that some countries, such as Nigeria and Taiwan, have implemented voluntary therapy sessions or video counselling services for those experiencing mental health difficulties, and in Kenya, respondents noted the introduction of training sessions on mental health and mental health hotlines.

In addition to the importance of ESG and mental health in the workplace, key findings of the IBA GEI’s 11th annual report for 2021/2022 include:

  • Alternative working models. Creating suitable framework conditions for the growing interest in alternative working models, especially the ‘gig economy’, remains a key focus for those involved in HR according to the 2021/2022 report. There continues to be a reported shortage of skilled workers, which employers are trying to combat through attractive new working models including options for working remotely or in a hybrid format (ie, working in the office and from home). Respondents from Germany and the US noted a common model of flexible working where employees have a fixed amount of weekly working time but are allowed to distribute their specific working time over the weekdays as they see fit. Shorter working weeks and unlimited holidays were amongst the innovative working arrangements reported on by the Czech Republic. A number of countries also noted the emergence of re-skilling, up-skilling and cross-skilling programmes within companies to boost the potential of existing employees.
  • Russia–Ukraine conflict. The effects of the Russia–Ukraine conflict, including rising energy prices, additional refugee flows and restricted supply chains, have had far-reaching consequences for many countries across the world. Many respondents noted the conflict as having a significant impact on the HR sector, particularly regarding personnel decisions. Respondents from Poland reported on new regulations governing the status of Ukrainian citizens fleeing the conflict. Similar laws granting Ukrainians who resided in Ukraine prior to the war temporary protection and the same legal standing as foreigners with permanent residency have been enacted in the Czech Republic. Many other countries, including France and the Republic of Ireland, lifted their visa requirements for Ukrainian citizens to allow them to work legally in their respective countries. Many companies decided to withdraw their presence in Russia following the outbreak of war on 24 February 2022, and respondents in the report noted a considerable number of the native working population leaving the country too.
  • Use of AI. According to the 11th AGR, the development of AI in HR legislation has been assessed differently over the reporting period of 2021 and parts of 2022. There are large differences between sectors and progress seems to vary between countries. In Chile, the Ministry of Science, Technology, Knowledge and Innovation presented the first AI policy, and in China, the Shanghai People’s Congress voted to adopt regulations that, once enacted, will ensure the application of ethical rules and legal compliance in the AI field. In Germany, around one in ten companies reported using AI in 2021 – nearly double that of 2019. The adoption of modern technologies in the retail and customer support sectors were noted as the cause of visible job losses in Ireland, Poland, and the US. Brazil also reported an increase in job losses in the legal sector.

Björn Otto, IBA GEI Member and a partner at CMS Hasche Sigle, Germany, commented: ‘With the help of the IBA GEI Annual Global Report, various current developments in the field of human resources law can be recognised and classified at an early stage. In today's fast-moving world of work, companies are faced with a multitude of new challenges, which sometimes emerge with a time lag in individual jurisdictions. In such situations, the annual report provides an overview of how other countries deal with such challenges and can serve as an early preparation tool.’

Each IBA GEI Annual Global Report builds on the historical perspective of previous editions, highlighting international trends in HR law with the aim of gaining empirical insights into the development of HR law and the range of employment legislation that exists worldwide.


Notes to the Editor

  1. Click here to download a PDF of the IBA Global Employment Institute Report from the IBA website.
  2. The International Bar Association Global Employment Institute was formed in early 2010 for the purpose of developing a global and strategic approach to the main legal issues in the human resources and human capital fields for multinationals and worldwide institutions. Since its establishment, the GEI has published a number of topical reports including Global Best Practices for Conducting Internal Investigations (2021) and The On-Demand Economy (2019).
  3. 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 advancing 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.

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