Updated IBA Guidance Note on Business and Human Rights: The role of lawyers in the changing landscape


In November 2023 the IBA Council approved the Updated Guidance at the IBA Annual Conference in Paris. The document has now been published in English and is currently being translated into Spanish, French, Chinese, Arabic, Japanese, Russian and Portuguese. On its importance and relevance to lawyers of today, Stéphane Brabant, Chair of the Core Drafting Group says: ‘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, governance] principles increasingly influence investment decisions, the Updated IBA Guidance helps lawyers contribute to the business respect for human rights.’

Background

The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) were unanimously endorsed by the UN Human Rights Council in 2011. In 2016 the IBA issued a Practical Guide for Business Lawyers on Business and Human Rights to assess the implications of the 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, and their incorporation into law. It discussed the impact of the UNGPs on legal practice. It was accompanied by a Reference Annex that discussed these issues in further detail. This work falls within the scope of our wider IBA Gatekeepers Project.

Over the last 18 months, work has been underway to update and simplify the 2016 IBA Guidance. In June 2023 consultation was carried out to ensure that the simplified Guidance is accessible and used by lawyers all around the world.

This document was prepared by a small group of lawyers – listed at the end of the document – and approved by a wider group of 30+ lawyers working on business and human rights and ethics. The core drafters thank the University of Lausanne for their invaluable support in bringing this document, and its translations, to life.

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 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’.

Engagement

If you would like to assist in translating this Updated Guidance document into another language, or if you have questions generally, please contact sara.carnegie@int-bar.org

  • Click here to access the practical guide published in 2016.
  • Click here to access the reference annex published in 2016.
Please note that translations have been freely provided by volunteers, therefore are not certified versions of the original English translation.

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