Swedish Banks in Breach of Human Rights Guidelines

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Swedish banks invest in companies involved in serious human rights abuses, according to a new report. The report also shows that the banks' justification - to engage with companies to bring about a change - in many cases is very weak.

The report written by Amnesty International in Sweden and the Swedish Consumers’ Association and published by Fair Finance Guide examines banks' investments in companies linked to human rights abuses. The report shows that the seven largest banks in Sweden invest in companies involved in human rights abuses, even though this goes against the principles that the banks commit to in their policies. Furthermore, five of the seven banks have major shortcomings in their engagement dialogues.

- The banks justify their investments by saying they engage with the companies in order to prevent or mitigate human rights abuses. But many of the engagement dialogues put no real pressure on companies, so they become a fake alibi to continue investing, says Kathleen McCaughey, Business and Human Rights officer at the Swedish section of Amnesty International.

The report is based on an analysis of the investments through the banks’ mutual funds in a sample of four companies whose involvement in serious human rights abuses have been documented by Amnesty for years. These include Dow Chemical, whose subsidiary is at the heart of the world's worst industrial disaster of our time where the people of Bhopal are still waiting for justice after 30 years. All banks also own shares in Shell, responsible for huge oil spills in the Niger Delta.

- If banks and other investors put proper pressure on companies many of the problems would be addressed, the owners decide how companies should act, says Kathleen McCaughey. The report examines whether the banks investment practices and engagement live up to its own policies as surveyed by Fair Finance Guide earlier this year. The results show major shortcomings in the investment practices and engagement of Danske Bank, Handelsbanken, Nordea, SEB and Skandia, while Länsförsäkringar and Swedbank demonstrated fewer shortcomings.

- We hope that the banks take responsibility for human rights in all their investments. It is not acceptable to, for example, invest in a company like Shell, which has destroyed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people for over 60 years in the Niger Delta, without actively trying to influence the company, says Kathleen McCaughey.

 

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Read the full report (in Swedish)

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