Client acceptance procedures must be reviewed by law firms seeking credit for being human rights compliant, an influential legal business group has concluded.

A report, presented at the UN Annual Forum on Business and Human Rights conference in Geneva (at the Palais des Nations, pictured), concluded that new policies and processes were needed to reflect law firms’ ‘responsibility’ on ‘the avoidance of harm to people’.

The report is based on a ‘peer learning process’ that includes Allen & Overy, BLP, Clifford Chance, Debevoise & Plimpton, DLA Piper, Herbert Smith Freehills, Hogan Lovells, Norton Rose Fulbright and White & Case. Information shared by the firms in a preparatory meeting held in London in September showed ‘evidence’ that a human rights commitment ‘is increasingly requested by clients’.

In addition to client acceptance procedures and internal training, the report focused on the implications of legal advice itself, and a duty to ‘provide advice about options to structure transactions in a way that identifies and seeks to minimise the risks of harming people’.

Common law jurisdictions currently have a competitive advantage in delivering business and human rights policies and advice, the report concluded. The Law Society’s initiative to develop industry awareness and guidance was praised by the report’s authors.

Such ‘sectoral initiatives’ were key in developing best practice standards. Law Society president Robert Bourns said: 'Solicitors play a key role helping their clients comply with business and human rights legislation. The Law Firm Business and Human Rights Peer Learning Process is a positive initiative that will help to develop best practice.' In December the Law Society will be publishing its latest guidance on business and human rights and a practice note on the Modern Slavery Act. 'This will inform solicitors’ advice to their clients and help embed best practice within their own firm,' Bourns added.