Update: 24.08.2011

Major Swiss banks carry shared responsibility for human rights violations

On its website «Banks and Human Rights», the Berne Declaration (BD) has been documenting and analysing controversial financing by Credit Suisse and UBS and their approach to human rights issues since April 2010.

On 14 July 2011, the BD has completely updated their website including their 2010 position paper with a background report on the financial relations of the two key players in the Swiss banking industry.

Application of UN guiding principles in the banking sector

In its update, the BD refers to the guiding principles for businesses defined by the UN Human Rights Council. According to these guiding principles, companies operating internationally, including financial institutions, have to act with due diligence so as not to infringe any human rights within their range of business. In future companies will not only be responsible for human rights violations if they result directly from the companies’ business activities, but also violate human rights indirectly via their products and services. This also includes the financing activities of the banks, be it directly by lending or indirectly by supporting the placement of shares and bonds.

With the UN guiding principles the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises, John Ruggie, explicitly calls for the financial sector to take on responsibility for human rights violations partly attributable to their fault. This responsibility to respect human rights forces the banks to develop and implement guiding principles with respect to human rights, processes for human rights monitoring and most of all transparency.

The aim of the campaign is to change the banks’ way of thinking

With its campaign, the BD wants to bring to light and explain how the banks, without directly participating in these human rights violations, through their business strategies, become accomplices of enterprises which directly cause human rights violations or accept such as a result of their activities. By lending money to such companies or helping them with the raising of funds, the CS and the UBS bear part of the blame for human rights violations committed.

Until now the two major banks relate to the human rights standards only to a very limited extent and ignore their share of responsibility. Compared to other internationally active banks, the CS and the UBS do not act according to transparent standards and guidelines.

According to the Berne Declaration, due diligence from a human rights perspective for major banks, such as UBS and CS, implies the development of comprehensive human rights policies and which should be made accessible to the public. This includes the prior examining of the effects of all business activities on human rights and their compliance in the banks’ standards and procedures.

In its July 2011 update, the BD comes to the following conclusions: «Although Credit Suisse has made certain progress, both major banks still lack transparent processes and they still do not comply with the guiding principles of the UN Special Representative».

The Credit Suisse denies the accusations in a communiqué. CS claims it supports the Guiding Principle on Business and Human Rights by the UN Human Rights Council and is paying particular attention on possible human rights violations against local and indigenous communities in the course of business.

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