BankTrack contact persons for this campaign:
Ryan Brightwell, BankTrack
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Key recent publications
- “We are unable to comment on specific customers...” Challenging banks on client confidentiality, March 2019
- "Developing effective grievance mechanisms in the banking sector", July 2018
- "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, and
- 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" or read the news release.
- Download "Banking with Principles? December 2014" 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 also engages with banks individually and collectively on human rights matters. This has included engagement with the the informal "Thun Group of banks", which was formed to discuss the implications of the UN Guiding Principles for the banking sector. We welcomed the Thun Group's first Discussion Paper in October 2013 and provided a response highlighting some key concerns. We also responded to the Thun Group's second Discussion Paper in January 2017, coordinating an open letter calling for it to be withdrawn, and produced a Fact Sheet summarising UN advice which the paper had failed to take into account. After the Thun Group updated its paper in December 2017, clarifying but not substantially changing its position, BankTrack responded with 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. Unfortunately its response did not indicate a willingness to do so.
In December 2017 we produced a further briefing paper, "How banks contribute to human rights violations", presenting eight case examples.
In 2018 we published "Developing Effective Grievance Mechanisms in the Banking Sector" with Oxfam Australia, to encourage banks to meet their responsibilities to ensure access to remedy. This was presented to banks via two webinars (see recording here).
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 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 do Brasil Brazil
Banco Santander Spain
Bank of America United States
Bank of China China
Bank of Montreal (BMO) Canada
Barclays United Kingdom
BNP Paribas France
Caixa Economica Federal Brazil
China Construction Bank China
Citi - international -
Commonwealth Bank Australia
Crédit Agricole France
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
Agua Zarca hydro project Honduras
Dakota Access Pipeline United States
Israeli illegal settlements Israel
Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion project (TMEP) Canada
Batang Coal Power Project Indonesia
Bauxite mine Niyamgiri Hills India
Belo Monte dam Brazil
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
Consent is Everybody's Business: Why banks need to act on free, prior and informed consent
SumOfUs Report Exposes French Insurer's Complicity in War Crimes
‘We should/could ensure rights-holders affected by our clients’ activities have greater access to remedy, but we won’t let them know about it’
World’s biggest banks routinely hide links to human rights and environmental abuses behind client confidentiality – study
Banking on Climate Change – Fossil Fuel Finance Report Card 2019
Banks must show their teeth to tackle cocoa abuses
How to move the world: the Dutch Banking Sector Agreement's Increasing Leverage paper, phase one
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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
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