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With human rights increasingly crystallizing into ‘hard law’, global businesses need to evaluate their performance as a key legal and strategic concern.
California’s Transparency in Supply Chains Act, the UK’s Modern Slavery Act, France’s Corporate Duty of Vigilance Law and the Netherlands’ Child Labour Bill are all evidence of how human rights are entering into statute around the world. Germany is currently working on its own law and will likely push for EU-wide legislation in second half of 2020 when they have the EU Council presidency. EU action may also provide a blueprint for similar legislation across the rest of the world.
Claims are being brought against multinational parent companies for infringements linked to overseas subsidiaries and/or global supply chains, while businesses are also exposed to quasi-litigation risk via the national contact point (NCP) procedure, which hears complaints about corporate human rights non-compliance in relation to the OECD’s guidelines for multinational enterprises.
Human rights issues are rising up the agenda, too, in the context of corporate transactions where they are now a vital element of M&A due diligence.
Many companies seek to go beyond their strict legal duties by adopting the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights – also known as the ‘Ruggie Principles’. Using the principles to scope and address human rights issues can help businesses assess and mitigate risk in a proportionate and iterative fashion, which in turn protects their reputation and preserves corporate value.
We participated in the research that led to the development of the Guiding Principles, and we have built a dedicated global business and human rights practice to advise our clients on the issues that flow from them.
We help our clients respect international human rights and comply with their legal obligations, while also advising on a range of related operational issues. See below for some recent examples.
Advising German shipbuilder Meyer Werft on criminal compliance and criminal proceedings against suppliers regarding fraud in social security standards (among other things)
Advising a major oil and gas consortium on its responses to a complaint to the UK, US and Italian OECD NCPs by NGOs alleging violations of environmental and human rights provisions of the OECD’s Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises (incorporating the Ruggie Principles)
Advising on the design and drafting of, and providing training on, human rights policies for various major financial institutions to balance the requirements of human rights law and business law, including in relation to whistleblowing, data protection and use of social media
Helping conduct a global comparative survey to enable the American Bar Association Center for Human Rights to respond to a request from the UN Special Rapporteur
Advising an international private equity investor on target title review across different sites and property formerly acquired in the context of legacy 'Aryanization' issues
Helping with expropriation procedures and the development of open-cast operations for a major European mining company, including dealing with social and ecological issues
Sarah K. Solum Head of US Capital Markets and Managing Partner of Silicon Valley Office