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As the world's largest gathering on business and human rights takes place in Geneva, new research from BankTrack has found that global banks are making slow progress in implementing human rights standards, and are failing to live up to their responsibilities completely in some areas. The findings are presented in a new report titled "Banking with Principles?".
The report assesses 32 large global banks against the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which set out the responsibilities of businesses to respect fundamental human freedoms. The report shows that, while some progress has been made since the Principles were launched in mid-2011, major gaps remain.
Progress has been particularly poor in developing adequate reporting on human rights impacts, and in the establishment of grievance mechanisms through which people affected by banks' activities can complain. The Guiding Principles call on all types of businesses to establish or join such complaint mechanisms - however none of the banks have yet taken this step.
Of the 32 banks covered, half were found to have developed human rights policies that include a clear commitment to respect human rights. This is one of the most fundamental requirements of the Guiding Principles. A majority (17 out of 32) did not provide any reporting on human rights developments or impacts at the bank. None of the banks covered were found to have grievance mechanisms in place, meaning there are no transparent means for communities or individuals to raise complaints when they feel banks have caused or contributed to a human rights abuse. None had a clearly described process in place to remedy even those human rights abuses that the banks identified themselves.
"To date, banks' efforts to implement the UN Guiding Principles have mainly revolved around producing discussion papers on the best way forward. BankTrack has welcomed these discussions, but some three and a half years on from the launch of these Principles, it is time to move onto implementation", said Ryan Brightwell, the report's author.
"Banks should now take steps to clearly show how they place impacts on rights-holders at the centre of their approach to human rights", added Andreas Missbach of the Switzerland-based Berne Declaration, who presented the report at the UN Forum on Business and Human Rights in Geneva yesterday.
Banks were assigned a score of between 0 and 12 depending on their performance against 12 criteria. The Dutch co-operative bank Rabobank scored the highest, with eight points, followed by Credit Suisse and UBS. Banks scoring less than two points included HSBC, Deutsche Bank and Bank of America, alongside the Chinese banks. The average score obtained was just three out of 12.
The report can be downloaded here [PDF]. To order a hard copy please contact us.
Correction: An earlier version of this report stated that the Lower Sesan II Dam in Cambodia is financed by ANZ. This was incorrect. ANZ is engaged in a joint venture with the Cambodia-based Royal Group of Companies, one of the main backers of the Lower Sesan II dam. However nether ANZ nor ANZ Royal Bank are involved in financing the dam. We apologise to ANZ for this error.