Ethical Performance
inside intelligence for responsible business


banks to get rights code

July 1999

The Amnesty International UK Business Group is to begin work on producing a set of human rights guidelines for financial institutions.

Amnesty’s Business Group spokesman Stuart Sweeney said preparatory work on the guidelines would take place over the summer, with comments invited from interested parties.

‘It’s early days yet, but we’re setting up meetings with financial institutions, mainly clearing banks, to hear what they’re saying about human rights,’ he said.

Amnesty produced a general set of human rights guidelines for companies last year, but believes there is scope for a separate checklist for financial institutions.

‘What they’re doing is very different from, say, what retail and extractive businesses are doing, so although we’d like everyone to work to the UN Declaration on Human Rights there may be certain considerations that are more relevant to banks than others,’ said Sweeney.

Amnesty’s Business Group manager Peter Frankental said work on the guidelines ‘is a very important priority’ and that he hoped to have a final document by the end of the year.

‘It’s a case of the sooner the better, but obviously we want the guidelines to have integrity so we have to run them past a number of different parties, including representatives from the ethical investment industry.’

Amnesty is also working with PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) to develop a ‘more complete and rigorous’ set of human rights benchmarks for use by UK companies working abroad. A PwC spokeswoman said the initiative was still at ‘a very early stage’.

Meanwhile, ethical research body EIRIS has decided to extend its work to look at how companies operate in countries with a poor human rights record.

EIRIS will analyse codes of conduct, policy initiatives and product sourcing before grading companies on a scale from weak to exceptional.

It says the new service is being developed primarily because many of its clients have shown increased interest in human rights issues.

Amnesty says there is a pressing need for the adoption of voluntary guidelines by companies because only nation states, and not businesses, are legally bound by international human rights instruments. It also wants regulatory frameworks that would force companies to act in accordance with human rights declarations.

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