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Press: release: World's biggest banks routinely hide links to human rights and environmental abuses behind client confidentiality

Author: BankTrack, Published on: 4 April 2019

"World's biggest banks routinely hide links to human rights and environmental abuses behind client confidentiality – study", 26 March 2019

Some of the world's biggest banks are routinely hiding behind client confidentiality to conceal investments in companies and projects that infringe human and environmental rights... BankTrack, which campaigns to hold commercial banks accountable, [published] analysis of five years of correspondence with 31 major international banks regarding problematic projects they finance. It finds that in nearly half of all responses (70 of 150), banks said they could not comment on whether they had a relationship with a particular customer or project. Half of those responses cited client confidentiality as the reason. The study also finds no legal obstacles to banks disclosing information about their clients... provided they obtain client consent. In almost all major banking centres, client confidentiality is written into bank contracts but is not a statutory requirement... "When big banks hide links to companies that use child labour, trash rainforests or displace indigenous people, they make accountability for those abuses impossible. Banks routinely claim that they are prevented from disclosing their finance for these companies, but we've found that this is a choice banks make..." said Johan Frijns, Director at BankTrack...

HSBC was the bank found most often to cite client confidentiality as an obstacle to disclosing its clients... The research finds that banks based in the UK, Canada and Asia are the least likely to disclose their clients, with those in mainland Europe the most transparent. Transparency varies significantly across banks in both the USA and Australia... Christian Donaldson, IFI Economic Justice Policy Advisor at Oxfam, said: "...For vulnerable and marginalized communities, the need for transparency and disclosure of such transactions including project-related information is real and urgent. But bank confidentiality practices represent the first major challenge to this approach for development finance..."

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Related companies: HSBC