BankTrack contact persons for this campaign:
Andreas Missbach, Public Eye
Ryan Brightwell, BankTrack
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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. 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.
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.
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.
Engaging with international policy debates and with banks directly.
BankTrack is a member of 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 came together to discuss 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. We also attended Thun Group meetings in June 2014 and June 2016 in Thun, Switzerland. In February 2017 we coordinated an open letter in response to the Thun Group's second discussion paper, which John Ruggie described as "deeply troubling", calling for the paper to be withdrawn. We continue to encourage the Thun Group to meet its as-yet undelivered commitment to develop a stakeholder engagement strategy.
BankTrack has been present at the UN Forum on Business and Human Rights each year 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; and in 2015 we participated in a panel on "providing access to effective remedy in the financial sector".
BankTrack has also engaged with the development of the UN Guiding Principles. In July 2010 we submitted the paper "Human Rights responsibilities of private sector banks" 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.
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, 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.
In 2013 a number of letters were published further clarifying banks' responsibilities under the Guiding Principles, including from the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights, Professor Ruggie, and the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. These letters clarify under what circumstances banks may cause, contribute or be directly linked to human rights impacts - terminology which imply differentiated levels of responsibility under the Principles. For example, a bank may contribute to a human rights impact by "providing financing for a project that will result in widespread displacement of local communities, without safeguards in place". An earlier "interpretative guide" to the corporate responsibility to respect human rights gave a concrete example of an adverse impact which is directly linked to an enterprise through its business relationships as "providing financial loans to an enterprise for business activities that, in breach of agreed standards, result in the eviction of communities".