Law firms launch business and human rights group

Twenty-two law firms have formed an association to support lawyers advising clients on human rights issues relating to their business, including by promoting arbitration as a means of resolving human rights disputes.

The Business and Human Rights Lawyers Association (BHRLA) announced its launch this week.

It aims to advance business and human rights leadership, learning, collaboration and best practice among law firms, following the principle that business should respect human rights as set out in the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

The association aims to raise awareness among lawyers and their clients of the responsibility to protect human rights. It will conduct educational and engagement activities such as seminars, conferences, publications and best practice guidance.

Among the board of directors are Meriam Al-Rashid, Eversheds Sutherland’s New York and London-based global co-chair of international arbitration and co-head of the Latin America arbitration practice; and Debevoise & Plimpton arbitration partner Samantha Rowe in London.

Rowe says one of the pillars of the UN principles is “remedy” for human rights abuses. She says “a key question that lawyers in this area face is how to resolve disputes and ensure access to remedy in a manner that is effective, fair and rights-compatible.”

“Arbitration has long been identified as a particularly suitable forum in this regard, and the community has undertaken important initiatives to ensure that it is fit for purpose, such as the Hague Rules on Business and Human Rights Arbitration”.

She adds that she hopes the BHRLA will develop this work and increase awareness of the role that arbitration can play in business and human rights.

Al-Rashid says human rights are the “foundation of a healthy society and sustainable business” and that “multinational corporations and their investors can no longer afford to be bystanders with so much at stake”. She says she hopes the association will help “bridge the world of business and human rights as one fluid consideration, as should always have been the case”.

The founding member firms of the BHRLA are Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner; Clifford Chance; Corrs Chambers Westgarth; Covington & Burling; Debevoise & Plimpton; DLA Piper; Eversheds; Fasken; Freshfields; Gibson Dunn & Crutcher; Herbert Smith Freehills; King & Spalding; Lalive; Linklaters; Mannheimer Swartling; Miller & Chevalier; Norton Rose Fulbright; Paul Hastings; Pels Rijcken; Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan; White & Case; and Wiersholm.

BHRLA co-chair Rae Lindsay, partner and co-chair of the public international law and business and human rights practices at Clifford Chance in London, says the association’s launch is “both timely and overdue”, given a “need to accelerate the dissemination of good practice in the field of business and human rights across the commercial legal profession globally”.

The association arises out of a law firm business and human rights “peer learning process” that was launched by several firms in 2016. It has been supported by members of the Global Business Initiative (an alliance of multinational corporations), and the AMLP Forum, an association of anti-corruption and financial crime prevention professionals.

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