Business & Human Rights

Identify, manage and mitigate business human rights risk

It is expected that all companies will respect human rights. We are seeing fast-paced development of international standards and domestic laws on business human rights, and close scrutiny of business conduct. Companies must ensure they are meeting the increasing requirements of domestic laws, as well as aligning with the high watermark of voluntary standards and stakeholder expectations.

Failure by businesses to meet human rights laws and standards can have significant legal, commercial and reputational consequences. It's as much about managing risk as it is about capitalising on opportunities.

How can we help?

The Allens Business & Human Rights team are experts in helping companies understand how human rights issues may arise, what legal obligations apply, how to interpret relevant voluntary standards, and what good governance and risk management look like.

Our team takes a tailored and commercial approach, whether we are advising on application of the laws and standards, conducting human rights due diligence, or assisting in responding to a complaint or legal claim.

We have deep subject matter expertise in international and domestic human rights laws and across the international and industry voluntary standards, including on topics like modern slavery, First Nations rights, and the intersection between human rights and other ESG issues like climate change and nature.

Business is global, and our alliance with Linklaters allows us to draw upon the best international regulatory and market expertise.

Governance and policy design

We assist companies with the design and refresh of human rights policies and governance processes, including those that are in line with international frameworks and standards such as the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. We help clients to embed policies into day-to-day practice.

How we can help

We have advised clients across a wide range of sectors, including energy and resources, financial services, entertainment, healthcare, property, and food and beverage, on:

  • human rights policy design, implementation, governance and reporting:
  • business and human rights risk analysis and reporting obligations;
  • director training;
  • internal reviews of compliance with, and implementation of, existing human rights policies, identification of weaknesses in processes, procedures and guidelines, and advising on the development of programs for uplift and assisting with policy implementation; and
  • conducting internal 'bluewashing' reviews, verification and assurance of human rights commitments against business practice, including on modern slavery and First Nations rights.
Human rights due diligence including human rights saliency and impact assessments

The high water mark of human rights laws, standards and expectations makes it ever more important for companies to identify where human rights impacts might arise and how the organisation might be connected to those impacts.

How we can help

Human rights due diligence is an ongoing and interactive way of identifying and addressing the human rights impacts of a business across its operations and products, and throughout its network of supplier and business partnerships. Human rights due diligence, including human rights impact and risk assessments, gives businesses better visibility and control over their potential or actual connection to adverse human rights impacts. Our team are experts in human rights due diligence on business operations and value chains, including:

  • human rights saliency assessments;
  • human rights impact assessments on a multi-jurisdictional basis;
  • enhanced human rights due diligence on higher risk transactions and relationships;
  • enterprise wide human rights risk assessments;
  • advising on how to manage potential and actual human rights impacts; and
  • designing connection to impact assessments and delivering tools, scenarios and training.  
Modern Slavery

A mix of international laws and standards, domestic laws and stakeholder expectations are setting the bar in relation to modern slavery identification, risk management and reporting.

How we can help

We routinely help businesses manage modern slavery concerns, disclosures and reporting obligations. We understand the complexities of modern slavery reporting regimes, and we have the practical understanding of policy implementation and compliance systems required to help businesses respond effectively to emerging regulatory reforms. Our team are experts in:

  • drafting, reviewing and uplifting modern slavery statements for compliance with the Modern Slavery Act 2018 (Cth) and providing opportunities to align with best practice;
  • preparing contractual clauses relating to modern slavery for use in a variety of contexts (including procurement and commercial) and with a range of counterparties;
  • assisting businesses with supply chain reviews to help them understand how to respect human rights across their value chain, and particularly where adverse impacts may be hidden within value chains; and
  • investigating and remediating modern slavery impacts when they are identified in company operations or value chains, consistent with global standards and expectations.
First Nations rights

Building consideration of First Nations rights into decision-making is increasingly a focus for and expectation of companies, and international laws and standards are setting the bar for stakeholder expectations on how companies approach these considerations.

How we can help

Our team has a strong knowledge of the international laws and principles that are relevant to companies understanding how their projects and activities impact on Indigenous people's rights and how those impacts need to be assessed and managed. We can assist with:

  • reviewing, drafting and uplifting relevant policy positions in relation to First Nations engagement and consultation;
  • advising on the rights and obligations in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), including the principle of Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC);
  • assisting with the human rights aspects of co-ownership and benefit sharing arrangements;
  • advising on Indigenous Cultural Intellectual Property and Data Sovereignty principles and considerations;
  • advising on how truth and treaty processes can be relevant to your business; and
  • advising on a full human rights risk assessment for Indigenous Peoples and uplifting related controls for human rights due diligence.
Grievance mechanisms and remediation processes

Businesses may sometimes be expected to remedy human rights impacts to which they are connected. Developing a principled approach to remedy is crucial to delivering meaningful, consistent and pragmatic remedy outcomes. Designing and implementing effective grievance mechanisms can assist companies in identifying adverse human rights impacts early, and help to address and remediate impacts before issues compound or escalate.

How we can help

We have helped businesses to design and implement a spectrum of grievance mechanisms and remediation processes, including:

  • advising on the design and implementation of project-level grievance mechanisms, including types of complaints and potential outcomes, process design, principles guiding connection to impact, governance matters, and alignment with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and other best practice standards;
  • advising on the design of human rights-specific grievance mechanisms, including current employee complaint processes and whistleblowing mechanisms in light of the UNGP framework and domestic laws; and
  • advising on the design of stakeholder-specific grievance mechanisms, including mechanisms tailored specifically to the needs of First Nations stakeholders.
Crisis management and investigations

When adverse human rights impacts are identified, it's important to navigate carefully the challenges that arise at all stages of the incident's life cycle. We have a dedicated investigations team with experience in guiding businesses through all aspects of a human rights-related investigation.

How we can help

Our experience includes:

  • investigating and advising on allegations of human rights violations, including sexual assault and harassment in a business's operations or by contractors connected to operations;
  • advising on investigations frameworks and alignment with the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights and other voluntary standards;
  • assisting in conducting human rights related investigations, including of workplace related bullying and harassment claims; and
  • assisting in providing comprehensive training on how to conduct effective human rights investigations.
Complaints, claims and litigation

In the business and human rights landscape, there is an emphasis on preventing adverse impacts. This preventative approach may mitigate adverse human rights impacts or mean they do not occur at all. However, in the event they do, clients may face regulatory action or litigation, and attention from stakeholders, including financiers. Our team advise frequently on responding to human rights complaints and claims, including the emerging focus on intersection with other ESG issues such as climate change and biodiversity.

How we can help

Our experience includes:

  • acting and advising in relation to human rights-related disputes, including litigation and complaints through non-judicial mechanisms (eg OECD National Contact Points);
  • advising on post-incident response, subsequent risk assessment, mitigation and WorkSafe investigations of workplace incidents, including responses to notices and requests for documents; and
  • acting in Court and Tribunal proceedings at the Federal, State and Territory level regarding discrimination, harassment, workplace investigations and termination of employment.