Ethical Performance
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Legal firms will study influence of law on CSR

March 2009

Fifteen corporate law firms from around the world are to participate in a United Nations-led effort to determine whether corporate law in various countries might need to be changed to foster better business human rights practices.

John Ruggie, the UN secretary-general’s special representative on business and human rights, announced last month that the businesses will study corporate law in 40 countries, ranging from France, the UK and Sweden to Malaysia, Nigeria and Papua New Guinea. All will donate their services pro bono.

Among those taking part will be Allens Arthur Robinson (Australia), Clifford Chance (US), Edward Nathan Sonnenbergs (South Africa), Mannheimer Swartling (Sweden) and Stikeman Elliott (Canada).

The 15 firms will look at various aspects of corporate law as they relate to business and human rights, including incorporation, directors’ duties, and reporting and listing requirements. They will be asked to explore not only what laws currently exist, but how corporate regulators and courts apply the law to ‘require or facilitate consideration by companies of their human rights impacts’.

Ruggie said he had commissioned what he called the ‘extraordinarily important work,’ because the relationship between corporate law and human rights ‘remains poorly understood’.

He added: ‘Corporate law, like other policy domains that shape business practice, traditionally has been kept institutionally and conceptually separate from human rights concerns.’

Ruggie will publish an analysis of the study results and, after consulting stakeholders, make recommendations to both states and businesses. No public timetable has been placed on the exercise, although a ‘multi-stakeholder’ consultation exercise will be held this autumn in Toronto.

Ruggie’s latest project comes after the UN human rights council extended his initial three-year mandate last summer (EP10, issue 2, p1). He also recently launched a website offering assistance to companies that are in conflict with non-governmental organizations over social and environmental issues. The site, called Baseswiki, gives information on ‘non-judicial mechanisms’ available to guide companies and stakeholders in resolving disputes.  

National jurisdictions to be explored:

  • Africa: Angola, Botswana, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Liberia, Mozambique, Nigeria, South Africa, Sudan.
  • Asia-Pacific: Australia, China (including Hong Kong), India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Singapore.
  • Europe and Middle East: Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Sweden, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom.
  • North America: Canada, Mexico, United States.
  • South America: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia.

John Ruggie | Global | Legislation

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