Human rights: what a bank can do to prevent abuse

60 seconds: Human Rights Watch the video

There’s something fishy about many (cheap) products sold in European stores. Some of them have been produced in factories where children work. Or the manufacturer doesn’t pay its employees fair wages, or exposes them to unsafe labour conditions. Like you, ABN AMRO wants to change all that. Read how we do this, and how you can make sure the products you buy weren’t made using child labour or slaves.

Human rights: what are they?

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights sets out the parameters for the respect of human rights. The Declaration, which was adopted by the United Nations in 1948, consists of thirty articles on the fundamental rights of every person. The first article states that all people are equal. Other articles refer to the right to education, freedom of expression and a fair trial, and the injustice of torture and slavery. Strictly speaking, the Declaration is not legally binding. That’s why the thirty articles have been elaborated in various international treaties, such as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. 

Slavery and child labour: that doesn’t happen in the Netherlands, does it?

While there is strict legislation protecting human rights in the Netherlands, abuse of these rights, such as labour exploitation, does occur. Plus which, people in the Netherlands are involved indirectly in human rights violations committed in other countries almost every day – such as in your local supermarket or in fashion shops. Research has shown that all supermarkets sell products involving labour exploitation, and the clothing industry has a poor reputation when it comes to human rights – some clothing factories outside the Netherlands use child labour and working conditions there are not up to scratch. Various players in the textiles production chain are structurally underpaid – take cotton farmers, for example, or cotton pickers, textiles dyers, fabric cutters, tailors, warehouse workers and those who transport textiles. As importers negotiate cut-throat prices with players in the production chain, not only do employers save on wages but they also cut corners on safe working conditions and environmentally friendly production methods. Read more about exploitation in the production chain of a pair of jeans in our report ‘The hidden costs of jeans’ (in Dutch only).  

But that's terrible. We need to take action

The bank is committed to changing that. Our Human Rights Statement sets out what we expect of our clients and other companies with whom we have a business relationship. We actively monitor our clients in industries and countries where the risk of human rights violations is high. We encourage our clients to change and if they’re not willing to do so, we don’t do business with them. In 2016, ABN AMRO was the first financial services provider in the world to publish a human rights report based on the United Nations’ new Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. The bank now publishes a human rights report once every two years.

Buy Fair trade products and clothes to prevent human rights abuses

When ABN AMRO gives a loan, we monitor closely whether the client take human rights seriously. You can do that too, for instance when you buy new clothes or something at the supermarket. But that’s easier said than done. Quality marks specifically for human rights don’t exist. Respect for human rights is, however, addressed in broader sustainability certifications, such as Fairtrade. Check out the website keurmerken.milieucentraal.nl (in Dutch only) to see which hallmarks have a focus on human rights, and how they differ among product categories. In addition to seeking a mark of quality, there are many companies that actively contribute to combatting human rights abuses such as child labour – Tony’s  Chocolonely and Fairphone being but two examples.

Would you like to know what else we do to build a sustainable, better world?

Check out our sustainability page.

Jan Raes

Jan Raes

Sustainability Advisor

Jan.Raes@nl.abnamro.com +31 (0)20 383 1753