Five on Friday – Five Recent Developments that We’ve Been Watching Closely - October 2017

by Foley Hoag LLP - Corporate Social Responsibility

Foley Hoag LLP - Corporate Social Responsibility

It’s Friday and time for another overview of developments in the field of business and human rights that we’ve been monitoring.

This week’s post includes: a paper from on the proposed draft elements for an international treaty on business and human rights; new guidance from the United Kingdom with regard to compliance with the Modern Slavery Act; and a review of corporate responsibility reporting.

  • On September 29, the Intergovernmental Working Group on Business and Human Rights released a paper reflecting proposed elements for a potential international treaty on business and human rights. The paper is intended to support discussions at the Working Group’s third session, which will be held in Geneva from October 23-27. Key elements reflected in the paper include: an intent to reaffirm the U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights; language stating that companies should respect internationally recognized human rights; and language stating that governments “shall adopt legislative and other measures…to establish and apply the legal liability” of companies for violations or abuses of human rights resulting from their operations.
  • On October 2, the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (“SASB”) published its Exposure Draft Standards for 79 different industries. The Exposure Draft Standards will be open for comment through December 31, 2017. The SASB Standards are intended to provide guidance to companies seeking to incorporate sustainability information into their financial disclosures. The Standards provide guidance on how companies can assess and report on the sustainability topics most likely to be material given the nature of their operations. The Standards are expected to be finalized in 2018.
  • On October 4, the Government of the United Kingdom released updated guidance for companies seeking to comply with the U.K. Modern Slavery Act. The guidance does not change formal compliance requirements but rather clarifies the government’s expectations with regard to “best practices” in corporate reporting pursuant to the Act. Notably, while the Act itself states that companies “may” include information on six specified subjects, including corporate policies and due diligence processes, the new guidance states that corporate statements “should aim” to include this information.
  • On October 6, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) issued a notice confirming that the Sudanese Sanctions Regulations would be officially revoked as of October 12. On January 2017, President Obama had issued an Executive Order stating that certain trade sanctions on Sudan would be lifted as of July 12, 2017, if the Government of Sudan “sustains positive actions it has taken over the last 6 months.”  In July 2017, President Trump extended the review period from July 12 to October 12. Notably, certain sanctions remain in place and Sudan has not been removed from the State Sponsors of Terrorism list. Companies should consult counsel before exploring commercial opportunities.
  • On October 13, KPMG released the 10th edition its report, The KPMG Survey of Corporate Responsibility ReportingThe report address topics and trends ranging from the disclosure of financial risks associated with climate change to reporting on corporate human rights performance. With regard to human rights performance, KPMG observed that “human rights is firmly on the agenda as a global business issue” with 90% of the world’s 250 largest companies by revenue explicitly referencing human rights in their reports. KPMG found that companies in Western Europe, Latin America, and the Asia Pacific region are most likely to discuss human rights, while companies in Eastern Europe and the United States are less likely to acknowledge human rights as a business issue.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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