How are European financial institutions addressing human rights in their activities?

Our new report written in collaboration with Finance & Human Rights (FaHR) was launched at the Sustainable Finance Forum on October 29, 2020.

This baseline study assesses how European Financial Institutions address human rights. The objective of the research project described in this report is to document the current status of human rights implementation in the European finance industry, generate insights relating to the integration of human rights considerations into the activities of financial institutions, and offer guidance on how to advance human rights in the finance industry.

Authors:
Cecilia Barral Diego, LL.M. (FaHR)
Dr. Lilach Trabelsi (GCBHR)
Prof. Dorothée Baumann-Pauly (GCBHR)
Charles Muller (FaHR); Markus Löning (FaHR)
Claire Treinen (FaHR)
Laura Much (FaHR)

Date: 27 November 2020

To download this publication, read its executive summary and learn more about its key findings, please scroll down.

Executive Summary

In recent years, growing expectations of investors, asset managers, regulators, and civil society, have been putting increasing pressure on financial institutions to integrate sustainability considerations into their business models. As such, sustainable finance has been gaining traction, to the extent that today sustainable finance is considered by many to have gone ‘mainstream’.

While considerable attention in sustainable finance has been given to the ‘E’ dimension of ‘ESG’ (environment, social, and governance factors), not as much attention has been placed on the importance of the ‘S’ dimension, which includes human rights.

The objective of the research project described in this report is to document the current status of human rights implementation in the European finance industry, generate insights relating to the integration of human rights considerations into the activities of financial institutions, and offer guidance on how to advance human rights in the finance industry.

This research project focuses on banks and asset managers based predominantly in six European countries: France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and the UK. Based on data collected through 17 interviews that we conducted with industry experts, we constructed and then disseminated a survey with a view of establishing baseline data on the current status of human rights in the European finance industry. We received a total of 126 responses to the survey. The financial institutions represented in the data analysed had a total of assets under management (AuM) of approximately 14.5 trillion euros (14,500 billion euros) as of December 31, 2019. At the individual respondent level, 78% of respondents hold an executive level or other senior management position.

Key findings in brief

  1. Human rights are considered a key topic linked to financial institutions’ fiduciary duty, as well as to risk mitigation and the creation of opportunities for better financial performance.
  2. Key stakeholders driving the need to address human rights in financial institutions are clients and employees, alongside broader societal expectations.
  3. Governments should set clear legal standards by enacting mandatory human rights regulations - respect for human rights should not be left to voluntary initiatives alone.
  4. Human rights are often addressed at top organisational levels, but organisational obstacles and gaps remain. Impediments to addressing human rights are mainly associated with a lack of time, lack of organisational knowledge, as well as a lack of human resources.
  5. A clearer understanding of what is expected of financial institutions, as well as better and more reliable company data are needed for financial institutions to better address human rights.