Vance Center Co-Sponsors Business and Human Rights Events

June 2021

Vance Center conducted a series of events with the New York City Bar Association’s Working Group on Business and Human Rights. Launched in 2019 at the initiative of the Vance Center, the Working Group aims to define policies and programs in this increasingly important area of legal practice. As it concludes its second year, the Working Group is seeking to raise awareness and educate the legal and business communities and other interested stakeholders on key business and human rights (BHR) issues.

Strategies to Align Human Rights and the Environment Series

The global environmental crisis has reached a tipping point. Action by governments and policy makers is now urgent, but businesses also play a critical role in correcting, reversing, and preventing negative environmental trends. A two-part speaker series explored how the evolving norms around the business responsibility to respect human rights provide an essential framework for addressing corporate environmental harms. Examining what it means for businesses to consider a safe, clean, healthy, and sustainable environment as a human right, industry representatives and advisors shared challenges and experiences of building robust and effective human rights programs that incorporate environmental risks, as well as provided an update on trends in regulation and litigation in this area of which companies should be aware.

Speakers from Verizon, Citibank, and US Ecology Inc provided insight from a company perspective in the first panel. The discussion focused on the revolutionary nature of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, as well as the importance of ensuring that environmental impacts are viewed through a human rights lens as opposed to being siloed.

The tendency for companies to view environmental and human rights issues separately also concerned the panelists in the second part of the series. They included speakers from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and lawyers consulting for companies on Environmental Social and Governance (ESG) and BHR principles. The conversation focused on the need for lawyers to ensure that BHR is an integral part of a company’s philosophy, thus requiring lawyers advising companies to take a holistic view of environmental and human rights impacts. The speakers also highlighted actions that companies should take as opposed to focusing solely on what the law requires in this area.

Ten Years On: What the UNGPs Mean for the Legal Profession

On the tenth anniversary of the UNGPs, the International Association of Lawyers, the International Bar Association, and the American Bar Association joined the Business and Human Rights Working Group in hosting a one-day conference highlighting the strides made and challenges that remain, including the key role assumed by lawyers in effectuating and implementing the Guiding Principles.

Sheila Boston, President of the New York City Bar Association, opened the conference by highlighting the key role that the legal profession plays in ensuring the implementation of the UNGPs and stressing the importance that both the UNGPs and lawyers play in protecting the rule of law. She also emphasized that despite the significant advances made in BHR and the implementation of the UNGPs, these advances are ineffective to address the vast chasms of inequality that COVID-19 has laid bare.

Anita Ramasastry, member of the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights, commented in her keynote address on the significance of four bar associations engaging with the UNGPs together. She stressed the need for legal professionals to engage with the UNGPs more actively and substantively and to transcend symbolism and put the UNGPs into practice.

Throughout the day, much of the discussion focused on the challenges in achieving corporate accountability and advancing the Guiding Principles, including the implications of the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in Nestlé USA, Inc. v. Doe involving the Alien Tort Statute.

Additional speakers included: Jorge Martí Moreno, President of the International Association of Lawyers; Sternford Moyo, President of the International Bar Association; and, Patricia Lee Refo, President of the American Bar Association.

In June 2020, the Working Group in collaboration with the City Bar’s standing committees and the Vance Center, proposed and the City Bar Association adopted a pioneer policy statement on Business and Human Rights. The policy statement endorses the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. Acknowledging New York City’s role as a hub for global business and the impact that business decisions made in New York have both locally and globally on human rights, the City Bar, through the policy statement, resolved to adopt a strategy to guide the legal profession to consider the growing impact of commercial activities on human rights, environmental sustainability, and the rule of law when serving as advisor to their clients.

This initiative follows on the Vance Center’s past and ongoing activities to promote Business and Human Rights principles. In 2015, the Vance Center launched a Business and Human Rights Initiative, which has drawn on the expertise of law firms in the United States and abroad to contribute to the continuing development of best practices in this area. As part of this initiative, the Program has advised international NGOs and organized conferences on these issues.

For more information, please visit the Working Group’s webpage: or contact Marie-Claude Jean-Baptiste at