ALLENS ARTHUR Robinson has taken a detour from the traditional focus of its commercial law practice, advising on a United Nations report on the role of corporations in human rights.
The report, prepared by UN Special Representative on Business and Human Rights Professor John Ruggie, will be considered by the UN Human Rights Council next week.
If the report is endorsed by the United Nations Human Rights Council on 2 June, it will be the first time that an official position on corporate human rights responsibilities will have been adopted at the international level.
Allens Arthur Robinson’s Corporate Responsibility Group has assisted Professor Ruggie previously, preparing briefs on the human rights law obligations of corporations in seven jurisdictions in the Asia-Pacific, including Australia, China, India and Indonesia.
The firm has also provided research on the extent to which corporate culture is used as a basis for corporate criminal liability in Australia and a range of countries in Europe and Asia. Most recently, the firm provided Professor Ruggie with research on the extent to which a corporate duty to respect human rights may be considered to exist under Australian domestic law.
According to Rachel Nicolson, Senior Associate with Allens Arthur Robinson’s Corporate Responsibility Group, the possible endorsement of the UN report is extremely timely.
“Clients, particularly multinationals in the extractives industry and finance sector, are increasingly turning to international law — on issues like labour, the environment, community and government relations — for guidance on best practice standards across their global operations,” Nicolson said.
“These international law standards are, in turn, becoming a part of domestic law obligations faced by corporations.”
The framework proposed in the United Nations report would provide guidance for companies on best practice approaches to meeting the increasing expectations they face in respect of human rights and international law.
It could also provide an opportunity for companies to consider ways to address legal exposure that may arise in connection with perceived corporate impacts on human rights in Australia or overseas.