Companies, firms and other organizations are increasingly being held responsible by enforcement authorities, investors, business partners, consumers and other stakeholders for ensuring that their activities do not harm the communities and environments in which they operate. In addition, national and international legal and regulatory developments, as well as evolving standards, have placed new pressures on companies to collect, analyze and disclose different data on the impact of their business operations and their supply chains. More recently, marketplaces for labor and capital, as well as consumer demand, have begun to reward those who integrate corporate social responsibility (CSR) concerns into their codes of conduct, policies and procedures. Alongside these developments, emerging trends in philanthropy, investment and consumer activism have led professionals to create funds that target investment in companies, technologies and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that can yield not just financial, but also social and environmental, returns.
This increased focus on CSR and sustainable business operations presents unique challenges and opportunities to businesses and investors. Which business attributes and impacts are relevant and material? Which stakeholders should have a say in, or otherwise inform, these materiality and relevancy determinations? How should material and relevant impacts be defined, measured, monitored and managed? How can companies balance their interests in being transparent to stakeholders with their need to protect intellectual property, maximize brand value and goodwill, and manage enforcement and litigation risks?
Akin Gump’s multidisciplinary team of CSR lawyers and advisors is well-positioned to assist clients with the identification, analysis and integration of CSR concerns and priorities at all levels of their operations. We draw on the collective knowledge, experience and skills of lawyers and policy advisors who have decades of experience working in government service, journalism, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and private practice assisting clients and government officials on issues of humanitarian affairs, international trade, sustainable development and crisis communications. The head of our practice played a pioneering role in the field of CSR, and our team members have a sophisticated understanding of CSR issues and practices that focus on the areas of U.S., EU and international customs and import controls, export controls and economic sanctions, trade remedies, trade and competition policy, labor and employment, global investigations, tax policy, cybersecurity, energy, environmental regulation and sustainable development.
Our CSR Services
Managing CSR risks and leveraging CSR opportunities require constant vigilance to stay abreast of the many drivers behind emerging trends in the field. Akin Gump’s CSR team assists clients in tracking, shaping and responding to these drivers and managing the compliance, litigation, reputational and political risks they can create. Beyond developing strategies that simply manage risk, however, Akin Gump also works with clients to develop CSR-integrated and sector-focused strategies that safeguard corporate reputation and improve corporate culture to help increase employee recruitment, retention and morale; build customer loyalty; and improve relations with relevant stakeholders. The core CSR services we can provide include:
- Integrated Reporting and Compliance. As evolving regulatory frameworks around human trafficking, extractive industries and climate change make clear, CSR must be more than a communications strategy. To meet mandated disclosure requirements, such as the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) requirements for conflict minerals, climate change, extractive industry payments and cybersecurity, or the anti-human trafficking-related reporting required by the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act of 2010 and the U.K. Modern Slavery Act, clients need to delve deep into their policies, procedures and planning systems to gather, analyze and incorporate relevant CSR standards and requirements—grounded in best industry practice—to support decision making and reporting. We assist clients with the full spectrum of compliance issues, from developing compliance programs to monitoring and conducting oversight of program implementation, through designing and executing crisis communications campaigns and longer-term strategies to enhance performance and reputation. We have significant experience working with engineering, information system, supply chain and logistics, legal and other business personnel to integrate domestic, international and market-driven compliance requirements into business processes. We have also developed pioneering investigation and audit tools that help to automate information-gathering, analysis, recordkeeping and reporting across a range of compliance and standards.
- Sector-Focused Strategies. Not all CSR standards are material or relevant to all companies or organizations. Akin Gump’s CSR teams therefore help clients develop sector-specific CSR programs. Examples of our sector-specific work include:
- Private Equity and Financial Services. We assist in the integration of environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors at all stages of the investment life cycle—fund formation, fund raising, investment selection, investment management and wind-down. We help investors and financial institutions ensure that their investments and participation in transactions occur through firms who can demonstrate how ESG factors are managed alongside their other responsibilities as fiduciaries. We also help financial institutions adopt and implement voluntary international best practices (such as the UN Global Compact, UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and UN Principles for Responsible Investment).
- Extractive Industries and Infrastructure Development. We provide comprehensive analyses and training related to the management of risk associated with labor and human rights issues, social conflict, environmental stewardship, good governance, anticorruption, indigenous rights and community relations.
- Manufacturing and Product Development. The demand for sustainable products and services is growing rapidly at the consumer and business-to-business levels. At the same time, there is increasing demand by government regulators, consumers and leading corporations for businesses to provide more information about their operations and supply chains. Akin Gump helps clients anticipate, manage and leverage these changing demands by identifying the unique regulatory and market drivers shaping their business environments. We have helped our clients assess the long-term trends governing sustainable chemical products; advised manufacturing and retail clients on evolving sustainable purchasing and marketing trends; and represented companies before the Federal Trade Commission, Environmental Protection Agency, Food and Drug Administration, and Department of Agriculture to discuss and promote cutting-edge, sustainable technologies.
- Stakeholder Analysis and Engagement. The stakeholders that may be impacted by business operations and other client activities vary widely from sector to sector, as do their interests. Because stakeholders can be both negative and positive drivers for CSR and other initiatives, they can create both risks and opportunities. Our CSR teams work with clients to identify important stakeholders and to understand their interests. We also assist clients with developing strategies for engaging government and nongovernment stakeholders to help ensure that shared interests are identified and integrated into business and other operational decision making.
- Comprehensive Diligence. Diligence on CSR issues is advisable in many business transactions, including when onboarding new vendors, suppliers, franchisees or distributors; when expanding into new countries or sectors; and before purchasing new companies or business assets. However important, though, the time and resources available to support this diligence are often short and limited. Our CSR teams therefore work to leverage existing diligence tools and processes, and to integrate CSR diligence into other critical and related areas of risk and exposure. By integrating CSR concerns with international trade diligence, for example, our clients are able to obtain efficiently more comprehensive information to inform critical decisionmaking.
- Global Investigations. The implementation of CSR initiatives frequently entails data gathering on various related elements. For example, reporting that relates to conflict minerals and anti-human trafficking may require clients to gather information from their supply chain and those of their suppliers. The collected information can touch on sensitive issues or present otherwise complex facts that may require careful and comprehensive review and analysis, and, potentially, reporting to boards, enforcement agencies and other stakeholders. Akin Gump’s global investigations and compliance team has experienced professionals located in our offices around the world who can efficiently support these investigations, wherever the facts may lead.
Our CSR practice also benefits from the political know-how that comes from our significant experience working with all three branches of the U.S. government, as well as the European Union, United Nations, World Bank, other international organizations and key nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).
Finally, our advice to clients also benefits from our own experiences working to implement sustainability measures within the firm, extensive pro bono efforts and focus on a diverse and inclusive workforce. As a global law firm with more than 20 offices operating across Asia, Europe, the Middle East and the United States, we are committed to outstanding global corporate citizenship.