The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights offers advice on application of UN Guiding Principles in banking sector
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Banktrack & Public Eye request advice from OHCHR on application of UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights in context of banking sector
Author: Ryan Brightwell, BankTrack (The Netherlands) & Andreas Missbach, Public Eye (Switzerland)
We are writing to request advice regarding the application of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights in the context of the banking sector, in light of previous guidance produced by the OHCHR on related issues. [W]e seek your advice and clarification on the following issues: 1. OHCHR previously provided advice in a letter of November 2013 to the OECD Working Party on Responsible Business Conduct on when a financial institution may be considered to be “directly linked” to a human rights impact through a business relationship.4 Can the OHCHR elaborate on which factors would influence whether a bank is (a) causing or contributing to an impact or (b) having a direct link to an adverse impact via a business relationship? 2. Where a bank has contributed to an adverse impact through its finance, what are the differentiated responsibilities of the bank and the company or vehicle leading the project to provide for or cooperate in remediation under Principle 22? 3. How should the responsibilities of banks to “establish or participate in effective operational-level grievance mechanisms for individuals and communities who may be adversely impacted by their operations” under Guiding Principle 29 be interpreted with regard to adverse impacts that a bank may cause or contribute, or those to which the bank may have a direct link through its finance?
OHCHR response to request from BankTrack for advice regarding the application of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights in the context of the banking sector
Author: The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) (Switzerland)
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has been approached by the non-governmental organisation BankTrack to provide advice regarding the application of certain aspects of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights...in the context of the banking sector. Specifically, BankTrack has requested advice and clarification on the factors that would influence how a bank is involved with an adverse human rights impact; the responsibilities of banks with respect to remediation in situations where a bank has contributed to an adverse human rights impact; and the role of operational-level grievance mechanisms in this context...The purpose of this note is to provide advice and clarification of the UNGPs in relation to the particular questions posed...It may also be a resource for other stakeholders in their efforts to implement the UNGPs...This note builds on, and aligns with, earlier advice prepared by OHCHR in relation to the application of the UNGPs to the financial sector.
BankTrack’s request to the OHCHR followed a “Discussion Paper” released by the Thun Group in January this year, which was strongly criticised for unilaterally declaring that banks would not generally be considered, under the UN Guiding Principles, to be causing or contributing to adverse human rights impacts arising from their clients' operations. This apparent attempt to play down banks’ human rights responsibilities contradicted previous advice from as early as 2013, from the OHCHR and others, and led Professor Ruggie, the author of the UN Guiding Principles, to publicly state that he was “deeply troubled” by the paper. The new interpretive advice from the OHCHR: reaffirms that banks can contribute to adverse human rights impacts through their finance...elaborates on the factors influencing the nature of a bank’s involvement with an adverse human rights impact, including whether the bank was incentivising or facilitating harm, and the quality of its human rights systems and due diligence processes...discusses the responsibility of banks to remediate human rights impacts when they identify they have contributed to them, and their separate responsibility to establish or participate in a grievance mechanism so that people whose rights have been affected by the bank can seek remedy...