Friday 26 July 2013 by Jonathan Rayner
Firms should carry out 'human rights due diligence' to ensure that they are not condoning a breach of rights, according to a guide for law firms published this month.
Firms should also use their 'leverage' over clients to prevent any abuse from happening again, the guide adds.
The guide is the first law firm specific report on implementing the UN's guiding principles on business and human rights, which set out the core responsibility of businesses (including law firms) to undertake human rights due diligence in everything they do.
Businesses that adopt the principles commit to the 'Protect, Respect and Remedy' framework. Through it, they commit to protecting against human rights abuses and respecting human rights by not infringing on the rights of others, while undertaking to allow victims access to judicial and non-judicial remedy.
The guide, produced by Advocates for International Development (A4ID), includes sections on the importance of the guiding principles for law firms; law firms' implementation of their rights and responsibilities in their client relationships; and an international analysis of the relationship between the guiding principles and codes of professional conduct for the legal profession, with recommendations for change.
However, the due diligence process should be 'proportionate to the human rights risks' which vary with the nature of transactions, the guide says. The risks associated with a UK client contracting with a UK accounting firm, for example, are 'less than for a multi-national oil company in a conflict zone'.
John F. Sherman III (pictured), who is general counsel and senior adviser at Shift, an independent not-for-profit body that advises companies and governments on human rights due diligence, said: 'A4ID's guide makes an important contribution to the emerging debate on integrating the UN guiding principles into the practice of law. It should be read by lawyers, law societies, bar associations, and other stakeholders interested in the critical role that lawyers play can play in helping businesses to respect human rights.'
Read the guide.