Law Council hosts Business and Human Rights Symposium
Recognising the critical need for industry bodies in Australia to take a leadership role in promoting the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, the Law Council of Australia held a symposium in Sydney on 24 November 2015.
The symposium, co-hosted by the Australian Human Rights Commission, featured an address from AHRC President Professor Gillian Triggs. As a result of the symposium the Law Council will now work with the AHRC on the development of materials to assist in understanding the impact of business and human rights on the legal profession.
Law Council of Australia President-elect Stuart Clark AM, who presented at the symposium, said there was a need for greater awareness of the Guiding Principles within the legal profession.
“It is important for the Australian legal profession and Australian business to waste no time in stimulating discussion about the Guiding Principles. They are destined to become an increasingly important factor both here and overseas,” Mr Clark said.
“The Law Council is uniquely positioned to work with state and territory law societies in providing information and insight for lawyers who will have to advise and assist clients in their engagement with the Guiding Principles.
“In-house lawyers today are expected to shoulder increasingly complex responsibility. They are expected to act not only as technical experts, but also often as a company’s de facto ‘Chief Human Rights Officer’. This, of course, creates additional demands.
“The Guiding Principles are only likely to grow in relevance from this point onward. The responsibility for making sure businesses and their legal advisers understand these Guiding Principles lies with leaders in our profession.
“The Law Council stands ready to assist the Government in its consideration of the Guiding Principles. We support consultation and the development of a national action plan on business and human rights. This is consistent with the calls from state parties during Australia’s Universal Periodic Review appearance on 9 November 2015 and the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights.”
John Keeves, Chair of the Law Council’s Business and Human Rights Working Group, chaired the symposium and noted its timeliness.
“There has been an evolution in global business thinking and the widely accepted view today is that respect for human rights must go beyond simple compliance with local law,” Mr Keeves said.
“There is a growing recognition that a strong business case exists for respecting human rights. Obviously there are ethical and public affairs dimensions to this, but there is also a clear link between the rule of law and economic growth.
“Adherence to human rights principles is increasingly, and in our view correctly, being viewed as a part of conducting transnational business.”