Annual Report 2018 | September 2019

International outreach

Putting human rights on the agenda 

During 2018, the NVB, adhering banks and other signatories were busy raising the profile of human rights issues at a number of key events, including:

  • OECD workshop in Paris on Mapping Investment Promotion and Facilitation
  • Participation by FMO, ABN AMRO, ASN Bank and Save the Children on various panels at the UN Annual Forum on Business and Human Rights in Geneva;
  • OECD Expert Working Session in London on Responsible Business Conduct in the Financial Sector
  • NVB-organised roundtable in Amsterdam to promote and discuss lessons learnt through the DBA attended by international banks, the Dutch government, SER and UN Working Group on Business & Human Rights;
  • SDG and Global Value Chains Conference in Brussels organised by SER, the European Economic & Social Committee and the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. With the NVB, the organisers set up a panel to discuss various initiatives to implement the OECD Guidelines and UNGPs within the financial sector, such as The Responsible Ship Recycling Initiative, the DBA, the Equator Principles, and relevant French legislation.

How DBA is perceived by the banks

“The DBA has played an important role in setting human rights high on the agenda of banks, and involving all relevant departments within the bank in identifying salient human rights risks. It’s also interesting as it creates a bottom-up approach across a bank, in contrast to how, say, compliance is often perceived within a bank.

“Historically, the Dutch feel comfortable with multi-stakeholder approach settings. Our ‘polder model’ emphasizes finding common ground between parties with different interests. So when Responsible Business Conduct became an increasing priority some 15-20 years ago, the inclination of the Dutch government was to facilitate and support discussions between business, trade unions and other experts. This culminated in the more formalized sector approach we have today with the DBA.

“This soft-law approach works well because it stimulates creative solutions to problems that reach far into international supply chains and challenging areas within our globalised economy. Problems that require a real effort from all sides: business, government and civic partners. Having said that, we are following with interest the growing debate around national and EU due diligence legislation. The time may be ripe to provide more clarity around expectations and to level the playing field at an EU level in order to make a scalable impact across all sectors.”

Maryse Hazelzet


Positioning yourself as a frontrunner brings responsibilities

“An international level playing field would definitely help address human rights issues in banks’ international value chains. But until such a playing field exists, some banks will need to play the role of frontrunners to move things forward. By signing the DBA, the Dutch banks positioned themselves as such frontrunners, which brings a responsibility to act firmly and progressively at the international level. 

“Within the international banking sector, client confidentiality is often the argument used by banks for not being transparent about bank-client relationships and any steps they’ve taken with a client involved in human rights abuses. Without this information, it’s impossible to see whether and/or how banks honour their responsibilities in this area in practice. This lack of transparency is also an obstacle for closer cooperation with NGOs and others.

“Rather than accept the status quo, as frontrunners, we’d expect the adhering Dutch banks to seek or create opportunities to put client confidentiality on international agendas, like the Loan Market Association (LMA), and push for change. A first, reserved response from the LMA to the DBA parties led to inaction.

“Two other opportunities to work on levelling the international playing field are offered by the review of the Equator Principles and the development of the UN Principles for Responsible Banking, as these standards have now been adopted by over 100 international banks. All parties and adhering banks can and should be using their own channels of influence to push for the inclusion of strong human rights provisions in these standards. Opportunities for aligned or joint initiatives as DBA signatories should also be seized. While NGOs can call on their counterparts abroad to carry out advocacy work during the revision processes for these Principles.

Jeanet van der Woude

Amnesty International, Netherlands

Generating better understanding 

What has the Dutch government been doing to encourage this level playing field?
“A level playing field within the EU is important in order to increase the leverage of companies in addressing negative impacts in their value chains, and the Dutch government is committed to creating such a level playing field. 

“On 30 October 2018, the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, together with the SER and European Economic & Social Committee, organised a conference on Sustainable Global Value Chains including a session specifically dedicated to the banking sector. We also organised a meeting in Paris for Dutch and French companies to exchange views on the Dutch multi-stakeholder approach and French Loi de Vigilance.

“The Dutch government consistently calls for an EU Responsible Business Conduct Action Plan to ensure a coordinated approach by the European Commission. This is reflected, for example, in the Council conclusions on the reflection paper ‘Towards a Sustainable Europe by 2030’.  

“The Dutch government also cooperates on this issue with likeminded EU Member States, such as Germany, Belgium and Finland.”

Tessel van Westen

Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs