Bringing businesses together to further the rule of law

International significance of Business for Rule of LawHow can businesses stand to benefit from assisting to further the rule of law around the world? A bold UN project, supported by LexisNexis, hopes to deliver a framework to guide businesses on how they can further the rule of law.

Introduction

“The most important single central fact about a free market is that no exchange takes place unless both parties benefit.”

This quote from Milton Friedman could well be the strapline for the UN’s Business for Rule of Law (B4ROL) program. Established to create a voluntary framework for businesses to ensure business dealings further the rule of law, the B4ROL project must first convince businesses that they can benefit from furthering the rule of law. Whether or not you support the form of libertarianism put forward by Friedman, there is a seemingly undeniable logic that, in a free market context, the most effective way to preserve the health of the market is to ensure both sides of a transaction stand to benefit.

In an effort to inform the content and design of the final framework, LexisNexis have partnered with the UN Global Compact to organise a series of workshops to gather insight from businesses and lawyers around the world. Through the workshops, held in over 20 countries, the UN hopes to engage with businesses and in-house lawyers in the development of the B4ROL framework to ensure it is effective in furthering the rule of law and is of real benefit to businesses.

Businesses and the rule of law

Over the past decade, large organisations have taken steps to ‘give back’ through corporate social responsibility (CSR) schemes. However, although to be applauded, CSR has been hampered by the availability of disposable revenue to fund these schemes. Through the B4ROL program, the UN is hoping to create an institutional CSR with a unified goal of promoting the rule of law. Many would ask: why the rule of law rather than clean water, famine or disease? The UN would answer that the rule of law offers the greatest opportunity to affect meaningful change across the world as the principle of accountability under the law provides the foundation for all other development and societal improvement. It also has the benefit of not appearing as a water tax, famine tax, or disease tax levied on companies doing business in developing economies.

From information sharing to judicial training, the UN believes businesses of all shapes and sizes can engage with furthering the rule of law. Investment from businesses—be it time, resources or expertise—has the potential to strengthen the rule of law which allows businesses to thrive.

A snapshot from the London workshop

The London workshop was a veritable ‘Who’s Who’ of the legal and business world. Academics, business leaders, lawyers and journalists combined to consider the UN’s proposal and create a report to feed into the wider framework. Conducted under Chatham House rules, the workshop provided an opportunity for the attendees to speak their mind and get to the heart of the UN’s project. The concept of the rule of law instantly resonated with businesses and in-house counsel who recognised that a strong rule of law removes barriers to business and allows businesses to operate with certainty that their legitimate business actions will be upheld by the courts of the particular jurisdiction.

The workshop offered a forum for the sharing of ideas and allowed experienced in-house lawyers to stress test the proposed framework against the realities of business life. Katy Fixter, market development director at LexisNexis, and Steve Kenzie, manager of the UK Secretariat of the UN Global Compact, took the helm in navigating the participants through the framework and gathering the feedback that will help shape the final framework. A frank and robust debate of the merits and pitfalls of the framework resulted in a set of recommendations that will be fed back to the UN Global Compact to ensure businesses and in-house counsel have a say in the final design of the framework.

The future of B4ROL

Through partnering with LexisNexis, the UN gained access to some of the most senior legal and businesses figures from across the globe. The global workshops will ensure the final framework is shaped by the combined knowledge and experience of over 300 lawyers and business professionals. With such incredible insight, the future looks bright for the rule of law.

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