Fun, collaborative, and exhilarating: these are just a few of the adjectives MoFo London associate Shruti Chandhok and head of restructuring in the London office Howard Morris used to describe their whirlwind summer trip to Kisumu and Mombasa, Kenya. They visited these locations to lead a professional development workshop series for local lawyers on the UN Guiding Principles (UNGPs) on Business and Human Rights.
The full-day workshops were designed to arm lawyers with the information and tools they need to implement the UNGPs, to help businesses both small and large, domestic and international to recognize and meet their human rights obligations, and to prepare lawyers to undertake the necessary human rights due diligence work.
Using the UNGPs to Shape the Law
Understanding the UNGPs will be integral to Kenya’s success, says Howard, because they can help local legal professionals and business leaders shape their country’s laws, exercise responsible control over their natural resources, and better promote economic prosperity.
“Conducting business while properly respecting land rights and labor wages, without discrimination on the grounds of religion or tribe, and with equality between the genders helps address social and tribal divisions and exploitation of people by unscrupulous businesses,” says Howard, who has visited and worked in Kenya and its neighboring countries on this and several other occasions.
The trip was the first of its kind for Shruti, a member of the firm’s litigation department and global anti-corruption practice.
“The groups we spoke with were highly inquisitive. They were interested in hearing about how compliance with human rights regulations would allow their clients to be ahead of the curve as well as provide new business for law firms. With a background in white-collar law, I was able to use the anti-bribery and corruption framework as an excellent contemporary exemplar of how compliance matters more to corporations of all sizes,” says Shruti.
Leveraging the Power of Education and Social Media
Howard and Shruti presented on the key UNGP themes during the workshops, often fielding questions and weighing in on real-life scenarios related to some of the following topics:
- The scope of businesses’ responsibility to respect human rights;
- Judicial grievance mechanisms;
- Understanding the pressure on companies to respect human rights; and
- How to make human rights part of your business.
Howard believes that, in addition to education and enforcement of the UNGPs, social media will be an increasingly powerful tool for Kenyans to use to shed light on abuses of human rights. According to Howard, human rights abuses that were secret in years prior are now getting much-needed exposure through social media sharing.
“What has been mostly a remote issue can now be brought to light by using the power of the consumer to influence businesses to do the right thing,” he says.
Howard notes additionally that, “Although there is a significant problem of corruption in the country, the Kenyans we met have a determination to fight to clean up business and politics, they have a proud and effective legal profession, an acute realization of their heritage, a beautiful natural environment, and a growing and aspiring middle class.”
The Kenya workshop marks the sixth of its kind conducted in the region. Other workshops have taken place in Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi, Zanzibar, and Rwanda. Funding and technical support for the workshop series were instituted by the Rule of Law Expertise UK (ROLE UK) and UKAid. Morrison & Foerster partnered with Advocates for International Development (A4ID), the regional bar association of East Africa, the East Africa Law Society (EALS), and numerous global law firms and professional services companies on the campaign.
Reflecting on their experience, both Howard and Shruti agree there is a significant case to be made for investing human resources and capital in Kenya.
“The silver lining is that there is a real hunger for economic progress and respect for human rights among the general population,” adds Howard.
To read more pro bono stories, download the fall 2018 edition of MoProBono here.