Jennifer Zerk Consulting
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Council of Europe “HELP” programme: an exciting new set of on-line training tools for lawyers on business and human rights

The Council of Europe's updated course for lawyers on business and human rights, co-authored by Jennifer Zerk, Anna Triponel and Claire Methven O'Brien, was launched in May 2021.

The updated course  was developed under the Project “Online Platform for Business and Human Rights”, implemented by the HELP (Human Rights for Legal Professionals) programme in cooperation with the  Council of Europe Steering Committee for Human Rights (CDDH) .

This interactive course is aimed at the wide range of legal practitioners, of different specialisms, whose work has a bearing on the field of business and human rights in one way or another (e.g. plaintiff's attorneys, defence attorneys, corporate counsel, adjudicators and government lawyers). Using the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights as the broad framework, but drawing on various sources of domestic, regional and international law (and European law and the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights in particular) this on-line course helps to illuminate the many ways in which the work of legal professionals can impact (positively and negatively) on human rights outcomes related to business activities. It aims to provoke reflection on how legal professionals can better integrate human rights perspectives in their daily work, and thus contribute towards future prevention of harms and more effective remediation. It also seeks to raise awareness of relevant international law standards and agendas, the legal developments that are presently shaping corporate responses, and the effectiveness (and drawbacks) of different mechanisms for delivering remedies to those whose human rights may be adversely affected by corporate activities.

The on-line course can be accessed here .

IBA handbook for lawyers on business and human rights

The International Bar Association has published a series of resources aimed at explaining the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights to the legal profession. These resources include Guidance for Bar Associations and a Practical Guide for Business Lawyers.

In 2016, the IBA commissioned the production of an on-line Handbook for Lawyers on Business and Human Rights, the aim of which was to encourage further reflection and discussion about:

  • the various ways in which human rights risks can be relevant to different areas of legal practice;
  • how lawyers can respond to those risks, in the context of a lawyer-client relationship, through the provision of legal advice and services that are aligned with broader risk management and human rights perspectives.

The IBA Handbook on Business and Human Rights brings together in one place a diverse collection of educational resources , including background context and explanation, case scenarios, discussion exercises, frequently asked questions (FAQs), sample checklists for use in a transactional context and further reading and resources.

The work on this project took place over a 12 month period, with input from two expert advisory groups; one comprised of business and human rights specialists and one comprised of senior company and commercial law practitioners.

The first two chapters of the handbook – which relate to company and commercial practice – are now available and can be accessed at

OHCHR Accountability and Remedy Project

Between 2014 and 2020, Jennifer Zerk acted as lead legal consultant to the Accountability and Remedy Project of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (“OHCHR”). The aim of this project was to identify ways that States and other actors can strengthen their implementation of the “Third Pillar” of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which relates to access to remedy for business-related human rights harms.

This project has proceeded in three phases, corresponding to three successive mandates from the UN Human Rights Council (Resolutions  26/22 , 32/10  & 38/13 ). The first phase was concerned with “judicial mechanisms” (i.e. courts) and culminated in a report to the Human Rights Council in 2016. The second phase focussed on the work of “non-judicial State-based mechanisms” (i.e. regulators, inspectorates, tribunals, ombuds and other non-judicial complaints handling and dispute resolution processes). The report setting out the outcomes of that research was presented to the Human Rights Council for consideration at its 38th session in June 2018. The third phase of the Accountability and Remedy Project examined the role of “private” (including company-based) mechanisms. The research has included an exploration of the importance of these kinds of grievance mechanisms as part of corporate human rights due diligence, and the linkages that exist between company-based mechanisms and regulatory regimes, including through the escalation of complaints. OHCHR presented its findings on the third phase of the Accountability and Remedy Project to the Human Rights Council in June 2020.

A fourth phase of the project began in 2020 focusing on enhancing the accessibility, dissemination and implementation of the findings from the work done between 2014 and 2020.

Creating markets for child friendly growth

Jennifer Zerk acted as a technical adviser in relation to this policy report launched by World Vision in April 2014. This World Vision report makes the moral and economic case for a common approach by G20 countries to address the problem of child labour in public procurement value chains. The report sets out a number of recommendations as to the key aspects which should be covered in governmental strategies, to ensure that law reforms are closely aligned with the UN Guiding Principles on Human Rights and emerging best regulatory practice. The report can be accessed here

Corporate Liability for Gross Human Rights Abuses: Towards a fairer and more effective system of domestic law remedies

The study was commissioned by the Office of the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights in February 2013 as part of follow-up work to the mandate of Professor John Ruggie as the UN Secretary General's Special Representative on Business and Human Rights. [ Background note : In February 2011, the then Special Representative, Professor John Ruggie, noted that further clarification of standards relating to appropriate investigation, punishment and redress where business enterprises cause or contribute to gross human rights abuses, as well as what constitutes effective, proportionate and dissuasive sanctions, are warranted. Professor Ruggie repeated this call in his opening remarks as Chair of the first UN Forum on Business and Human Rights held in Geneva on 3-5 December 2012].

The report sets out the results of a preliminary investigation into the effectiveness of domestic judicial mechanisms in relation to business involvement in gross human rights abuses. This report identifies barriers to accessing justice at domestic level, and the effects of differences in domestic approaches on the way that domestic remedial systems are used in practice. Based on the findings, the study sets out recommendations for areas for further enquiry.

The study finds that present arrangements for preventing, detecting and remedying cases of business involvement in gross human rights abuses are not working well: victims in many cases fail to get effective redress, States face uneven patterns of use of remedial mechanisms, and companies have to operate in an environment of great legal uncertainty and lack a level playing field.

A copy of the report can be accessed here

Simply Put: Towards an effective UK regime for environmental and social reporting by companies

The study was commissioned by the Corporate Responsibility (CORE) Coalition against the background of recent UK coalition government consultations on the future of non-financial reporting by UK companies. The study examines why the current legal framework for social and environmental reporting is failing and what changes to the law need to be made to take the guesswork out of corporate compliance.

A copy of the report can be accessed here

Extraterritorial jurisdiction: Lessons for the Business and Human Rights Sphere from Six Regulatory Areas

This study was commissioned by the Corporate Social Responsibility Initiative of the Harvard Kennedy Law School to inform the mandate of the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General on Business and Human Rights, Professor John Ruggie. The aim was to examine why and how states seek to influence foreign private actors in six different regulatory areas – anti-corruption, securities law, anti-trust, criminal law, civil law and environmental law – to see what lessons can be drawn for the Business and Human Rights sphere.

A copy of the report can be accessed here

Tackling corporate abuse abroad

This study was commissioned by the Corporate Responsibility (CORE) Coalition. The aim was to identify and evaluate the different regulatory options that might be open to the UK government to help alleviate the social and environmental problems resulting from the activities of UK companies abroad. Deficiencies in the current regulatory system were illustrated using a series of case studies from different industrial and commercial sectors. Different regulatory options were compared using a demand/wish evaluation technique and then ranked according to which would be likely to have most impact in terms of improving poor performance and resolving real life problems and disputes.

Download a copy of the report here ...

Corporate complicity for human rights abuses: the civil law context

The brief was to examine the factors behind the growth of "human rights litigation" against companies and to assess its usefulness as way of achieving greater "corporate accountability" in this area. A "comparative" approach was called for (i.e. comparing the different legal approaches in different common law jurisdictions). The final report then fed into the deliberations of the International Commission of Jurists expert panel on Corporate Complicity in International Crimes and their substantial 2008 report on the subject.

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Corporate liability for gross human rights abuses . Find out more about this study here ...

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