Nov 202015

By Ryan Brightwell, BankTrack, 20 November 2015

Earlier this week I attended this year’s United Nations Forum on Business and Human Rights, where some 2,300 representatives of business, government and civil society met on the shores of Lake Geneva, in November weather which was eerily spring-like.

The Forum is intended to take stock of the challenges and ways forward in putting into practice the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. One thing we considered a major challenge when it comes to the banking sector is its lack of progress on providing access to remedy for those affected by human rights impacts – so we were pleased to see a panel discussion on “providing access to effective remedy in the financial sector” on the Forum’s main agenda.

Palais des Nations, Geneva

A night view of the ” allée des drapeaux ” of the United Nations in Geneva. UN / Jean-Marc Ferré via Flickr, some rights reserved.

The session was organised by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), at least partly in response to the findings of last year’s BankTrack’s “Banking with Principles?” report, and we were invited to participate.

Unusually for such a panel, all participants (representing business, academia and civil society, as well as the OHCHR itself) were in broad agreement on one central point: there has not been enough progress from the financial sector in meeting its responsibility to provide rights holders with access to effective remedy for human rights grievances. But the panel went further than this, providing detailed guidance for the financial sector on how it might meet these responsibilities in practice.

It is just that there was nobody from the commercial banking sector in the room to hear it.

It is not that they were left out deliberately. Banks were invited to participate in the panel, but informed the organisers that they were unable to do so. Nobody from the banking sector asked a question in the discussion that followed the presentations, or made themselves known. The Thun Group of banks, which has established itself as the working group in the banking sector on how to put the UN Guiding Principles into practice (i.e. precisely the subject of the Forum) were nowhere to be seen. In case you wondered, the Forum is free to attend and the dates are advertised a year in advance. No excuses, then.

Plenty of good advice and guidance was given with the banking sector in mind. To make sure that banks are able to hear it, we are compiling documents and resources from the Forum on this page.

And to be sure this situation does not get repeated; the dates for 2016 Forum are 14 to 16 November 2016. We suggest those responsible for human rights in the banking sector put them in their diary right now.

Resources from the Financial Sector Panel

BankTrack’s remarks to the Forum.

A video of the entire panel is available. The speaker order is as follows:

  • 0:00 Roel Nieuwenkamp, OECD Working Party for Responsible Business Conduct (Moderator)
  • 5:08 Lene Wendland, Adviser on Business and Human Rights, OHCHR
  • 20:55 Ryan Brightwell, BankTrack
  • 33:10 Jelena Stamenkova van Rumpt, PGGM
  • 43:48 Christine Kaufmann, Independent Expert
  • 49:00 Caio Borges, Conectas
  • 55: 29 Q&A

Other resources from the UN Forum:

Background documents, submissions and statements

Films from the Forum on UN Web TV


 Leave a Reply