Annual Report 2018 | September 2019

The Dutch Banking Sector Agreement

Striving for a positive impact on human rights around the world

Small country, deep impact
The Netherlands is a small country, but our many multinationals and strong trading tradition mean we have a relatively far-reaching impact on the global economy and its value chains, and with that comes responsibilities. Our banks are pivotal here, as they provide financial services to companies operating in many different sectors and countries around the world. Companies whose practices have a deep impact on employees, communities and the environment. An impact that can be positive, but also negative.

To try to ensure that in terms of human rights that impact is never a negative one, in October 2016 eleven Dutch Banks, along with the NVB, Dutch government, Trade Unions and NGOs, signed the DBA, which became formally effective in December 2016. Since initial discussions of an agreement, and now during its implementation, the SER has played an advisory and coordinating role, sharing its experience and knowhow from working on similar covenants in many other sectors. 

By adhering to the DBA, a bank commits to implementing and embedding policies and practices designed to ensure it meets its responsibility to respect human rights. The DBA covers a bank’s global financing activities regarding corporate loans and project financing. The aim is to have a material positive impact on the lives of people who face, or may face, adverse human rights impacts as a result of the activities of a bank’s clients. 

Beyond a paper exercise 
As well as improving the adhering banks’ policies and practices, the aim is to get wider commitment from the global banking sector to address human rights impacts. Because the DBA doesn’t operate in isolation: all banks have a corporate responsibility to respect human rights, as articulated in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises (OECD GL). The UNGPs and OECD GL are seen as the authoritative standards globally on responsible business conduct, and form the basis for the commitments laid out in the DBA. 

One key concept from the UNGPs that all the parties have embraced is ‘human rights due diligence’. This requires adhering banks to identify and assess actual and potential human rights impacts, integrate and act upon their findings, track responses, and communicate how the impacts have been addressed. Finding a way to embed that into the adhering banks’ practices and systems will be an important step in the right direction. 

To learn more about the DBA and other sector agreements visit