New York City Bar Association Launches Business and Human Rights Working Group

In response to the growing debate on the role of businesses in respecting human rights, the New York City Bar Association, at the direction of President Roger Maldonado and in coordination with the Cyrus R. Vance Center for International Justice, has formed a Working Group on Business and Human Rights to define policies and programs in this increasingly important area. The Vance Center’s Human Rights and Access to Justice Program is coordinating the Working Group.

The Working Group will recommend whether the City Bar (1) should endorse the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs); and (2) if the City Bar does endorse the UNGPs, should develop and implement a strategy to educate and engage the legal community and the broader public with regard to business and human rights.  

The Working Group is composed of members from the following committees of the New York City Bar Association: Foreign & Comparative Law, United Nations, Council on International Affairs, International Law, Corporation Law, International Human Rights, International Environmental Law, and In-House Counsel. The group is co-chaired by Irit Tamir, Director of Oxfam’s Private Sector Department, and Viren Mascarenhas, partner in King  & Spalding’s New York office and member of the Vance Center Committee. Vance Center Programs Director Marie-Claude Jean-Baptiste acts as the group’s coordinator. 

In recent years, civil society organizations, international agencies, and corporations themselves have given greater attention to the legal responsibility of businesses to respect human rights and remedy human rights violations arising from their operations. This has given rise to a new field of human rights practice: Business and Human Rights or BHR.

For many, the UNGPs are the gold standard for BHR practice, receiving recognition from governments, civil society, and corporations worldwide.

Lawyers play a crucial role in BHR, advising corporate clients on the legal consequences of their actions, both in terms of binding human rights obligations and duties arising from international law, such as the UNGPs. The International Bar Association, as well as national bar associations, mostly in Europe, have developed guidance for lawyers and law firms on BHR. Research conducted by the Vance Center shows, however, very little engagement in the United States by state or local bar associations. The New York City Bar Association’s Working Group on BHR thus represents an important undertaking, given New York’s role as a global hub for business.