Using data to protect human rights

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Our second Human Rights Report features the bank’s progress on the issue of human rights risks. The principal risks affecting the bank involve discrimination, privacy, labour rights and land-related human rights.

The 2018 Human Rights Report describes what we have achieved on the issues of discrimination, privacy, labour rights and land-related human rights. It also describes the path that the bank has been on since 2011 – from theory to practice. Human rights are important to us, and represent one of the key focus areas of our sustainability policy.

A significant part of the report is dedicated to people in vulnerable positions, be it retail clients with debt issues or children labouring in the supply chains of companies the bank finances. In other words, this includes not only people that are in direct contact with the bank, such as its clients and employees, but also others who are not.

The bank as a driver of change

For the bank, respecting human rights means first of all that we identify, prevent, mitigate and account for the way we address human rights risks in our own operations and business relationships. In addition, we are looking to make an impact on the financial sector as a whole and on society at large. Sometimes, we merely want to share our learnings. At other times, we work hard to use our leverage and drive meaningful change, for example in government policy.

Joining forces to identify human trafficking

Since 2015, ABN AMRO has been working on a project with the Inspectorate of the Dutch Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment (Inspectorate SZW) and the University of Amsterdam (UvA) with the aim of sharing knowledge to identify human trafficking.

A specialist team in our Security & Integrity Management Department uses search queries to look for possible indications of human trafficking in our bank data. If we identify a sign that might point to human trafficking, we do additional research and report any unusual transactions to the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU). The FIU, which is an independent organisation, assesses whether the investigating authorities, such as the police or the Inspectorate SZW, should take action.

Searching for unusual transactions and reporting them to the FIU is common practice for any bank. But in this joint project to combat human trafficking, our focus is on potential victims. Our search parameters include indicators that point towards labour exploitation. Since the project’s launch, we have identified multiple potential cases. Going forward, we are looking to extend our monitoring efforts to include companies in high-risk sectors for human trafficking, such as construction, agriculture and transportation. Meanwhile, we are also keeping tabs on new employment structures that could be a sign of exploitation, as identified by the Inspectorate SZW. In the summer of 2018, for instance, we defined a new indicator that alerts us to exploitation through employment structures involving pseudo-self-employed workers. The new indicator has since helped us uncover one situation, which we reported to the FIU. The project group aims to implement this type of partnership at other banks as well.

“Our partnership shows that the lines separating government, business and NGOs are blurring. Policies are increasingly developed in cooperation with different actors, and based on knowledge from real-life situations. Simply by joining forces, we have made great strides in a relatively short time. If other banks join, we can make enormous progress, not just in terms of wiping out human trafficking, but also when it comes to other social challenges. By sharing knowledge and expertise, and by giving one another a look behind the scenes as needed, we can achieve better results.”

Steef de Vries, Inspectorate of the Dutch Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment

Interview with Trouw

An interview (Dutch only) with Dutch newspaper Trouw was published on Monday, describing how financial data are used to track down human trafficking. Taking part in that interview was Maria Anne van Dijk, one of ABN AMRO’s experts on sustainability and human rights.

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