UNCITRAL Completes a New Mediation Framework, Based on the Singapore Convention

By Mylene Chan

Earlier this month, the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law adopted the UNCITRAL Mediation Rules, the UNCITRAL Notes on Mediation, and the Guide to Enactment and Use of the UNCITRAL Model Law on International Commercial Mediation and International Settlement Agreements Resulting from Mediation. 

Judith Knieper, Legal Officer at the UNCITRAL Secretariat, at a side forum on investor-state mediation, commented that these texts complete UNCITRAL’s mediation framework, with the milestone 2018 Singapore Convention on international settlement agreements as a pillar. 

Starting in 1980, UNCITRAL began to develop a mediation framework, which now includes the following:

  • UNCITRAL Conciliation Rules (1980) (updated in 2021).
  • UNCITRAL Model Law on International Commercial Conciliation (2002) (amended in 2018).
  • UNCITRAL Guide to Enactment and Use of the 2002 Model Law (2002) (replaced in 2021).
  • UNCITRAL Model Law on International Commercial Mediation and International Settlement Agreements Resulting from Mediation (2018) (amending the 2002 Model Law). See page 2 of UNCITRAL Working Document 1073 here.
  • The United Nations Convention on International Settlement Agreements Resulting from Mediation (2018), commonly known as the “Singapore Convention.”
  • UNCITRAL Mediation Rules (2021) (updating the 1980 Conciliation Rules)
  • UNCITRAL Notes on Mediation (2021).
  • Guide to Enactment and Use of the UNCITRAL Model Law on International Commercial Mediation and International Settlement Agreements Resulting from Mediation (2021) (replacing the 2002 Guide) (available in the Working Document linked above). 

These texts provide a means for the harmonization of laws, procedural rules, and enforcement mechanisms for international mediation. The most significant tool for international commercial dispute resolution is the Singapore Convention, which enables enforcement of mediated settlement agreements among its signatories.

As a result of the adoption of the Singapore Convention, international businesses now have an effective alternative to litigation and arbitration in resolving cross-border disputes.  Judith Knieper said that 54 states had signed the Singapore Convention, and she said she hoped that more will join as many states are currently engaged in the ratification process.

The UNCITRAL Secretariat has invited CPR to participate as an observer delegation to its Working Group II deliberations, and solicited its comments on the drafts to facilitate finalizing the texts. The UNCITRAL Working Group II is composed of UNCITRAL’s 60-member states and has been developing work focused on mediation, arbitration, and dispute settlement. 

During UNCITRAL’s recent 54th session, which ran from June 28 and concluded July 16, and was held in person in Vienna, Working Group II introduced a number of updated provisions aimed at taking into account recent mediation trends and developments, including court-ordered mediation. See page 2 UNCITRAL Working Document 1074 here. UNCITRAL incorporated Working Group II’s revisions as part of the newly adopted UNCITRAL Mediation Rules.

Major updates in the UNCITRAL Mediation Rules include the following:

  • Clarify that the rules apply to mediation regardless of the process’s origin, including an agreement between the parties, an investment treaty, a court order, or a mandatory statutory provision.
  • Introduce a definition of mediation.
  • Stipulate that in a case of conflict, mandatory provisions in the applicable international instrument, court order, or law will prevail.
  • Specify that mediation commences when the disputants agree to engage in the mediation.
  • Require disclosure of circumstances regarding impartiality or independence.
  • Permit use of alternative means of communication during the mediation and of remote consultations.
  • Provide that information shared by parties with the mediator is confidential unless parties express otherwise.
  • Update the provisions governing the preparation of settlement agreements to take into account UNCITRAL’s legal framework, including the recently adopted Singapore Convention.  
  • Address the interaction between mediation and other proceedings.
  • Provide for exclusion of liability for mediators.
  • Encourage gender and geographical diversity in selection of mediators.
  • Specify that parties and the mediator should agree upfront on the methods of assessing mediation costs, with multiparty mediations shared on a pro rata basis.

UNCITRAL is expected to publish the UNCITRAL Mediation Rules and the UNCITRAL Notes on Mediation together later this year, according to a statement at the end of the session.

UNCITRAL’s work on mediation will continue with the drafting of rules and guidelines relating to investor-state mediation and with work exploring educational best practices, according to an official’s comments in a side forum, which is a lunch-hour roundtable in which UNCITRAL officials discussed topics related to UNCITRAL’s work.

Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law Prof. Lela Love, who is chair of the International Advisory Board on Mediation for the Office of Ombudsman for the United Nations Funds and Programmes, commented about the developments reported here:

All this remarkable focus on mediation—and activity around it—heralds a new era for the dispute resolution process that ideally promotes enhanced understanding, dialogue and creative problem solving.  This may be a renaissance time for mediation—one that is very welcome in the divided and polarized time we inhabit.

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The author, an LLM candidate at Yeshiva University’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York, has covered UNCITRAL’s 54th Session proceedings as a 2021 CPR Summer Intern.

Biden Signs Resolution Restoring Pre-Trump EEOC Conciliation Rules

By Cai Phillips-Jones

On June 30, President Biden signed S.J. Res. 13, overturning a recent U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission rule change that briefly required the EEOC to share more information with employers during the EEOC conciliation process.

CPR Speaks previously discussed the rule reversion, which Congress passed along party lines, and which will bring back the previous higher level of discretion on information to be provided by defendant companies.

Conciliation is a mediation-like process which happens after evidence of discrimination is found by the EEOC. Proponents and opponents of the short-lived rule both argued that their rule preferences would increase efficient settlement of EEOC cases.

The standard emanates from Mach Mining v. EEOC, 575 U.S. 480 (2015) (available at https://bit.ly/2TmuMZg), in which the U.S. Supreme Court granted broad discretion to the EEOC to determine how to proceed with the conciliation process, including the amount of information shared with the parties.

But the Trump-era rule, which went into effect in February, tamped down on this discretion, requiring the EEOC to share factual findings of discrimination such as the identity of witnesses to the discrimination.

Biden’s remarks upon signing can be found here.

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The author, a J.D. student who will enter his third year this fall at Yeshiva University’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York, is a 2021 CPR Summer Intern.

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EEOC (and Congress) Rolls Back ADR Policy

By Cai Phillips-Jones

A new U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission rule affecting the agency’s conciliation process became effective Feb. 16, but was repealed via a Senate resolution last month. The May 19 Senate move signals “disapproval”; In order for the rule to be fully overturned, the House will have to vote on the joint resolution, and it must be signed into law by President Biden.

Passage is likely in House, where it awaits consideration. The conciliation process rule, devised under the Trump Administration, drew fire from Democrats because it required more information in early stages of discrimination complaints to be provided to employers, and critics said that could spark retaliations.  Republican supporters said the process supported settlements. See, e.g., Daniel Wiessner, “Senate votes to repeal EEOC settlement rule that ID’ed bias victims,” Reuters (May 19) (available at https://reut.rs/3wcIYCG).

Conciliation is a mediation-like process that aims to increase the speed at which EEOC complainants get relief. Conciliation is conducted by an EEOC investigator rather than a third-party mediator, and takes place after the agency has found evidence of discrimination.

The new rule required the EEOC to share the factual and legal basis of any findings of discrimination with employers about findings of discrimination during the conciliation process. The rule aims to increase the transparency of the conciliation process by providing the employer with more information about their potential liability.

The rule has been viewed as a rollback of the Supreme Court decision in Mach Mining v. EEOC, 575 U.S. 480 (2015) (available at https://bit.ly/2TmuMZg), which limited the amount of information employers received about EEOC discrimination findings.

The Senate vote to overturn the new conciliation rule is the latest example of EEOC rules changing since the Biden administration took office. In addition to this rule change, a conciliation pilot program was ended earlier than expected, in January. The pilot program made a small change to the existing EEOC program by mandating that settlement offers be shared with “appropriate levels of [EEOC] management” before being shared with the respondent.

In January, the EEOC also ended a mediation pilot program, which expanded the use of mediation to additional case types and during more phases of the EEOC administrative process. The mediation pilot program was announced on July 7, 2020, and was originally scheduled to run for six months, ending in January 2021. On Jan. 6, the pilot was extended until September, 2021. But the EEOC reversed course weeks later, and under new Biden Administration EEOC leadership, ended the program on Jan. 27.

In addition to expanding the availability of mediation, the pilot program also increased the use of video-conferencing mediation and electronic feedback from mediation participants. The video conferencing and electronic communication elements will be carried forward from the pilot program, as will the ability for parties to request a mediation at any point during the EEOC process.

It appears that the only major part of the pilot not being continued is the expansion of mediation to additional case types. EEOC cases are individually evaluated for referral to mediation. Some case types, however, including class and systemic charges, have historically been exempted from mediation referrals. During the pilot, these exemptions were suspended. The end of the pilot likely signifies a return to exempt status for these cases.

In the Jan. 27 press release terminating the previously extended pilot but noting the popularity and success of EEOC mediation, the new EEOC Chair, Charlotte A. Burrows, endorsed the continuing use of mediation and conciliation when appropriate. “I strongly support the prompt and voluntary resolution of discrimination charges whenever doing so is consistent with our mission,” she noted in a statement in the release, adding, “The Commission will continue to strengthen its conciliation and mediation programs in accordance with the overarching goal of preventing and remedying discrimination in the workplace.”

Burrows was critical of the pilot program’s implementation by predecessor chair Janet Dhillon. As an EEOC Commissioner last July, Burrows, noting that the program hurt the agency’s traditional enforcement role, said that Chair Dhillon “lacks authority to institute this sweeping change unilaterally, because it contradicts policy formally approved by a Commission vote.” See Paige Smith, “EEOC Alters Mediation Process Under New Temporary Program,” Bloomberg Law (July 7, 2020) (available here).

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The author, a J.D. student who will enter his third year this fall at Yeshiva University’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York, is a 2021 CPR Summer Intern.

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