In 2012, BNP Paribas published its Declaration with respect to Human Rights, outlining its strong commitment. Can you tell us what that represents for a major banking Group?
BNP Paribas has committed to respecting and promoting human rights. It does so across all four areas in which it operates:
- Among its employees—favoring diversity, fighting against discrimination, etc.
- Among its suppliers—ensuring that human rights are protected across our supply chain.
- For its individual clients—protecting their personal data, for example.
- In the activities it finances (or in which it invests)—ensuring that our major corporate clients measure their human rights impact and prevent negative outcomes.
Regarding these topics, 2017 was an eventful year for legislation. What impact did that have on the Group?Since we are present in the United Kingdom, BNP Paribas published its first annual declaration in compliance with the MSA (Modern Slavery Act), which came into effect this year.
Another new action: we will publish our first vigilance plan in response to the French Duty of Vigilance Law. This plan will describe the system that we are setting up to limit the potential impact of our activities on human rights.
Remember that BNP Paribas must also grapple with the indirect risks of its clients, which is an aspect that makes its activity so unique.
What does that mean in practical terms?
As a bank, we must consider the potential human rights impact of the activities carried out by the clients we finance.Consider an example: a large company in the oil sector could, following a spill that pollutes soil and waterways, cause the displacement of entire populations. If we financed the infrastructure that led to the problem, then it is a problem that concerns us, too. Managing our risks means ensuring that our clients have set up the necessary processes to avoid these serious impacts. To make that happen, we have to use powerful tools to monitor our clients.
What changed in 2017 about how we evaluate our risks?
This year, BNP Paribas made further improvements to its risk management system by implementing a program to strengthen human rights criteria in its tools. That kicked off with ‘Know Your Customer,’ a tool used to learn about clients before agreeing to work with them. The tool added a feature to search for potential controversies related to human rights. Next, the Group analyzed its loan policies, which direct its financing decisions, in order to determine which policies need stronger human rights criteria. Sector-based policies received the same treatment, as they direct activities in sensitive sectors in terms of social and/or environmental issues and set the level of ‘CSR Screening’, a CIB tool used to evaluate clients operating in sectors not covered by sector-based policies.
This makes it sounds like a flawless system. But can the BNP Paribas Group do even better?
Of course! In terms of human rights, we have to move forward humbly. We can never be sure that we have covered everything. And it is always crucial to know when to listen. Last year, for example, BNP Paribas received feedback from local communities concerning infrastructure being built on their land. Our analyses notably uncovered that the process of consulting with affected local populations did not meet the industry’s standard practices.
How did you respond?As a first step, the Group conducted an in-depth dialogue with stakeholders of its projects to understand the actual situation in the field.
Following these steps, BNP Paribas decided to tighten the criteria of its project financing policy to encourage its clients to obtain free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) from populations who may be impacted by their activities. The Group also invested to promote the principle of local consent before the ‘Equator Principles’ association, whose mission is to provide a responsible framework for banks to finance projects.
Are there any other recent initiatives of note in terms of defending Human Rights?
Yes, last October, in connection with its new “unconventional oil and gas” policy, BNP Paribas decided not to finance major transport infrastructure like pipelines that cross lands held by local populations. In addition, in November 2017, BNP Paribas announced it is ceasing its financing and investment activities related to manufacturers of tobacco products, as well as producers, wholesalers and traders whose revenue is derived mainly from tobacco.
And what are the Group’s future projects in this area?
Respecting and promoting human rights is not just about managing risks. It’s also about imaging new solutions. BNP Paribas is investing to develop new products and services that work toward achieving the Sustainable Development Goals aiming to end poverty, protect the planet and guarantee prosperity for all by 2030.