Thursday 29 June 2023

  Return to blog

A monthly contribution by the IBA President


I am pleased to announce the launch of the new ESG hub page, designed to be a resource for IBA members and the broader legal community.  This is a first step in the context of the IBA plans regarding the Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) movement, which is one of my five presidential priorities for the term 2023/2024. Clearly, ESG is an area of growing interest to the IBA member, as demonstrated by the fact that more than 20 sessions at this year’s Annual Conference in Paris will focus on ESG.

The purpose of making ESG a priority is to ensure that the international legal profession plays a significant role on ESG and thus helps create a positive and enduring change in the world. We shall once more use the law as an instrument of change. 

To advance this goal, we identified six main areas of work:

  1. Gathering any relevant current and future ESG content and activities in a single access point – this hub.  Indeed, several committees and fora across the IBA have accomplished significant work in the area not only from the various perspectives of environment, social and governance, but also from the different legal related matters such as compliance, investment controls, directors’ fiduciary duties, litigation. The hub encompasses the IBA’s main activity in this area.
  2. Having a dedicated specialist conference dealing with the role of lawyers in ESG. We already held a great first conference in New York in March 2023 and are planning for the second one to also take place in New York, on 28 and 29 February 2024. We wish to increase even further next year’s conference profile and I am confident that this new IBA event will become yet another IBA flagship event.
  3. The training activity deployed by the IBA in this area is remarkable.  Multiple IBA events are focused on this topic with a significant volume of free and member-only webinars which have focused on or referenced ESG in the last 18 months. The two most recent ones relate to the emerging ESG regulatory risks in the US and Europe as well as assessing ESG relevance for law firms and their clients, respectively.
  4. Educating on ESG, particularly in those jurisdictions where there may be less awareness of the issues involved and an increased need to explain implications because of the nature of their activities, such as those concerning extractive industries.  Lack of information about ESG implications may deter investments in such regions or simply mean a total disregard by all stakeholders of ESG, and thus of the benefits it should bring in terms of sustainability. The IBA is exploring the interest and possibility for particular regions to benefit from such ad-hoc education programmes.
  5. Collaborating with institutions/expert bodies to ensure knowledge of other initiatives, thus avoiding duplication of efforts, is an essential part of our plan. This requires establishing lines of communication and thereafter, potential collaboration, with such notable institutions. This will contribute to the IBA being recognised as the leading legal voice on ESG.
  6. Internally, the IBA continues reviewing its policies and practices with regards to ESG. We are working to ensure the IBA also becomes a leading institution in terms of ESG.

Whilst being aware of the growing politicisation of ESG aspects as well as of the fact that the ESG movement has its detractors, on balance I firmly believe ESG is a force for good for the global community and the rule of law. ESG has the capacity to make us improve the way we as lawyers run our law firms and in-house departments.  Of course, it has that same capacity with respect to the communities we serve, and how they carry out their respective missions. Clients demand alignment from us as their service providers also at the ESG front. I would argue we are already reaping some of the rewards of the still nascent ESG movement. 

ESG is a rapidly evolving field.  Predictably, at present ESG lacks coherence, with different understandings of what it means and encompasses.  I am promoting the IBA to provide thought legal leadership on ESG, helping to shape the direction it takes.  To do that, we need to learn from the scores of ESG proponents in the legal, business, and academic worlds, but also listen carefully to those expressing concerns about directions it is taking.  ESG will be strengthened, not weakened, by respectful dialogue.  

The IBA is all about promoting the exchange of knowledge and experiences with the aim of finding solutions to ongoing common challenges. ESG is one of today’s challenges. As the legal profession moves towards incorporating sustainability in all sectors and specialties, collegiality and shared experiences are needed. That requires significant learning and greater reflection. I encourage you to do so within our Association. 

It is our hope that you may find the ESG presidential project of value as a further move towards our goal of making the IBA an even greater forum for you, our members, and the entire legal sector. The hub is a first step in the context of ESG.

Allow me to end by expressing my gratitude to the members of the IBA Task Force working jointly with me on this ESG project: Shane Freitag, a partner with the Canadian firm BLG and member of the IBA Management Board; Andrew Mackenzie, Chief Executive of the Scottish Arbitration Centre and a member of the Advisory Board of the SPPI Council; Sara Carnegie, Director of the IBA Legal Policy and Research Unit and Michael Maya, Director of the IBA’s North America Office.

Our work has just started!