Business and Human rights—what is in-house counsels role?

Business and Human rights—what is in-house counsels role?


46414989_xxlThe role of lawyers and general counsel in  relation to the Guiding Principles has been highlighted in a number of  recent guidance notes and studies.  The changes to the commercial, legal and societal landscape has led to changes in the role of General counsel. These facts were documented in the UN Global compact (in association with Linklaters) study[1]

Over the past two months I have been interviewing in-house lawyers and General Counsel across a number of sectors, with one aim – to find out what their understanding of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights were and whether the organisations they represented had an understanding of these issues.

The challenges facing the companies that the GC’s represented were very diverse. It might be surprising to some that companies approaches to the implementation of the Guiding Principles vary enormously . However, given the general lack of buy in at top management level to the issues, perhaps this is not a surprise. The challenges varied form cost consciousness to maintaining moment for change.  Only one of the organisations had a stand alone human rights policy.

Whilst ensuring compliance was still a key feature of the role of the GC there is a growing trend that they become involved in broader issues and not only commercial ones. The majority of participants played active roles in either helping their organisations understand the full range of issues (including moral issues) facing the business or participating in the development of the organisations approach to human rights.

GC’s should be aware of the role that they can play in relation to human rights and business in the following areas:

  1. Demystifying the subject of human rights and understanding how it applies to their legal advice a

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