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Human Rights Compliance Issues Loom On Corporate Horizon

Publication Date: 
January 10, 2014
Source: 
Daily Journal
Author: 
Caitlin Johnson

Daniel Cooperman, fellow at the Rock Center for Corporate Governance, comments on the possibly conflicts between UN regulations and local laws for companies that outsource to foreign countries in The Daily Journal.

As general counsel begin to lay out their department's priorities for the coming year, one area on which many have stepped up focus is their companies' human rights policies. Once largely the purview of public relations departments, human rights issues have gained the attention of compliance officers and other in-house counsel as a new wave of legal concerns crop up in the space.

But while some companies have implemented changes in the face of the shifting regulatory landscape, others have been slow to adopt robust human rights programs such as those called for in new United Nations global standards on business and human rights. Some observers warn the delay could create liability for those businesses.

...

Part of the story behind the spotty implementation of U.N.-compliant governance schemes, said Daniel Cooperman, the former general counsel to Apple Inc. and Oracle Corp. who now works as of counsel at Bingham McCutchen LLP, may be how the guidelines mesh with local laws.

"If your company's policy is to comply with the laws of the host country in which you're doing business, then endorsing the U.N. principles may be problematic, because some of the U.N. policies such as a worker's freedom of association, to form unions and the like, may conflict with the policies of the host country's regime" he said. "Multinational corporations need to make sure that their endorsements aren't empty words in those instances."