BankTrack contact persons for this campaign:
Ryan Brightwell, BankTrack
Share this page:
Most recent publication: "How banks contribute to human rights violations", December 2017.
BankTrack's Human Rights campaign
Banks can cause human rights violations themselves, such as through discrimination in their hiring or service provision, and they can contribute or be linked to human rights violations through lending or other financial support for the companies responsible (see Further Information, below). For example, banks have provided finance for agricultural companies involved in land grabs; loans for large dams which displace Indigenous Peoples; lending to mining companies which have benefitted from paramilitary violence around their operations; and supported companies with forced or child labour in their supply chains.
BankTrack's human rights campaign pushes for banks to fully meet their responsibilities to respect human rights and human dignity across their operations. The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, unanimously endorsed by the UN Human Rights Council in June 2011, provide the clearest expression of these responsibilities. Since 2011 we have focused on the following three areas:
- Benchmarking banks on their implementation of the UN Guiding Principles
- Challenging bank finance for human rights abuses through a series of Human Rights Impact Briefings
- Engaging with international policy debates and with banks directly.
1. Benchmarking banks on the UN Guiding Principles
BankTrack's "Banking with Principles?" report benchmarks large banks around the world on their progress in implementing the UN Guiding Principles. The second version of the report, in June 2016, assessed and scored the human rights policies, processes and reporting of 45 banks against criteria based on the UN Guiding Principles. Over half of banks scored between 0 and 3 out of a possible 12 points, showing little or no evidence of human rights due diligence, and the report identified three major gaps that all banks are failing to address.
- Download "Banking with Principles? June 2016" [PDF] or read the news release.
- Download "Banking with Principles? December 2014" [PDF] or read the news release.
2. Challenging bank finance for human rights abuse
In 2016 BankTrack began a series of Human Rights Impact Briefings examining bank links to specific human rights impacts. For each briefing, the banks involved are asked to describe the actions they have taken to address these impacts, in line with their responsibilities under the UN Guiding Principles.
- The first briefing investigated labour standards violations in IOI Corporation's Malaysian plantations
- The second briefing investigated Drummond and paramilitary violence in Colombia
- The third briefing investigated Trafigura, Vitol and the supply of high sulphur "Dirty Diesel" to Africa
Responses received from banks have varied, but the majority did not provide a substantive response. Rather, they provided general descriptions of their human rights policies and due diligence processes, which shed little or no light on the actions taken by the bank. If bank policies work, we would expect to see better responses from banks which score well on their human rights policies. We hope to be able to draw firm conclusions about whether this is the case in future. However early indications are that this is not necessarily the case.
Dodgy Deals on the BankTrack website also provide details of the human rights impacts of the project or company concerned.
3. Engaging with international policy debates and with banks directly.
BankTrack engaged in the process of developing the UN Guiding Principles, with for example a July 2010 paper "Human Rights responsibilities of private sector banks" which was submitted to the UN Special Representative on Business and Human Rights, Professor John Ruggie. BankTrack's lobbying efforts helped secure the addition of wording which made clear that the Principles clearly apply to the financial sector.
We are also engaged in the Advisory Group to the OECD Proactive Agenda Project for Responsible Business Conduct in the Financial Sector, through which we aim to encourage higher standards in the implementation of the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Companies, particularly in the field of human rights.
BankTrack also engages with banks individually and collectively on human rights matters. This includes engagement with the the informal "Thun Group of banks", which discusses the implications of the Principles for the finance sector. BankTrack welcomed the Thun Group's first Discussion Paper in October 2013 and provided a response highlighting some key criticisms. Its second Discussion Paper, released in January 2017, was more problematic, and its claim that banks "would not generally be considered" to contribute to human rights impacts through their finance proved highly controversial. BankTrack led the response to this paper, coordinating an open letter calling for it to be withdrawn, and produced a Fact Sheet summarising UN advice prior to January 2017 which the Thun Group paper had failed to take into account. In December 2017 we produced a further briefing paper, "How banks contribute to human rights violations", presenting eight case examples. Later the same month the Thun Group updated its paper, clarifying but not substantially changing its position, and BankTrack again responded by coordinating an open letter urging the Thun Group to follow a robust process of stakeholder consultation for any subsequent papers, in line with the advice of the UN Working Group.
We attended Thun Group meetings in June 2014, June 2016 and June 2017 in Thun, Switzerland, and we continue to engage with the Thun Group and encourage it to meet its as-yet-undelivered commitment to develop a stakeholder engagement strategy.
BankTrack has been a regular presence at the UN Forum on Business and Human Rights since 2012. In 2013 we presented our response to the Thun Group. In 2014 we convened a panel on human rights and the finance sector. In 2015 we participated in a panel on "providing access to effective remedy in the financial sector". In 2016 we co-organised a panel on "Banks & the UNGPs: implementation case studies and dilemmas". In 2017, although we did not participate in a panel discussion, we contributed an article to the UN Forum Blog, titled "steps forward and steps back on the road to access to remedy in the banking sector".
Further information: the human rights responsibilities of private sector banks
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights clearly states that "every organ of society", including business enterprises and therefore banks, has human rights obligations. Human rights are typically grouped into (1) civil and political rights, and (2) economic, social and cultural rights. Banks have the potential to impact upon all these rights, both positively and negatively, and in a multiplicity of ways. For example, a bank may engage with a client with a disputable track record on human rights, enabling them to continue operating. Banks may also provide essential finance to clients that are involved in activities that directly impact upon human rights, such as manufacturing and trading of arms.
The United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, (UNGPs) unanimously endorsed by the Human Rights Council in June 2011, provide clarity on the expectations of the international community regarding the human rights responsibilities of corporations. With the Guiding Principles, the UN Human Rights Council defined the corporate responsibility to respect human rights, which is entirely and unambiguously binding for the financial sector.
The UN Office of the High Comissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights are the two UN bodies with a mandate to interpret the UNGPs. They have provided advice clarifying the responsibilities of the finance sector under the UNGPs. In particular, the OHCHR provided a detailed guidance note in June 2017 in a response to BankTrack.
Further advice regarding the banking sector's responsibility was published in response to a paper by the Thun Group in January 2017, and is collected on the website of the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre.
Agricultural Bank of China China
Banco Bradesco Brazil
Banco Santander Spain
Bank of America United States
Bank of China China
Bank of Montreal (BMO) Canada
Barclays United Kingdom
BNP Paribas France
China Construction Bank China
Citi United States
Commonwealth Bank Australia
Crédit Mutuel France
Credit Suisse Switzerland
Deutsche Bank Germany
Goldman Sachs United States
HSBC United Kingdom
Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) China
Intesa Sanpaolo Italy
JPMorgan Chase United States
Lloyds Banking Group United Kingdom
Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group (MUFG) Japan
Mizuho Financial Group Japan
Morgan Stanley United States
National Australia Bank (NAB) Australia
Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) Canada
Royal Bank of Scotland Group (RBS) United Kingdom
Société Générale France
Standard Chartered United Kingdom
Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation Japan
Sumitomo Mitsui Trust Holdings Japan
Toronto-Dominion Bank (TD Bank) Canada
Wells Fargo United States
Related Dodgy Deals
Belo Monte dam Brazil
Dakota Access Pipeline United States
Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion project (TMEP) Canada
Agua Zarca hydro project Honduras
Batang Coal Power Project Indonesia
Bauxite mine Niyamgiri Hills India
Gibe III dam Ethiopia
Guaigui dam Dominican Republic
Ilisu dam Turkey
Jaitapur nuclear power plant India
Kajbar dam Sudan
Kaltim Prima Coal mine Indonesia
Lower Sesan 2 dam Cambodia
Minas Conga mining project Peru
Myitsone hydroelectric dam Myanmar
Nam Theun 2 dam Laos
Pascua Lama gold mining project Argentina
Phulbari coal mine Bangladesh
POSCO integrated steel project India
Rio Madeira dams: Jirau and Santo Antonio Brazil
Shwe gas and pipelines projects Myanmar
Theun-Hinboun dam expansion Laos
Woodside Petroleum’s gas refinery Australia
Xayaburi dam Laos
Drummond United States
IOI Corporation Malaysia
Dutch Banking Sector Agreement on Human Rights publishes first annual report plus leverage and cocoa papers
BankTrack and Oxfam Australia call on banks to ensure access to remedy for victims of human rights abuses
Banks and human rights: The Thun Group must step up
Steps forward and steps back on the road to access to remedy in the banking sector
Dutch development bank takes step forward on human rights, but must do more to protect defenders
Israel/Palestine: Israeli banks supporting settlements
Banks provide billions for Dirty Diesel traders while failing to act on human rights, says new briefing
- Of 26 banks contacted, not one has pressured companies over toxic fuel exports to Africa