If anyone searches for Thun in an Internet search engine, they will find it is a Swiss city in the Canton of Bern on the shores of a lake also called Thun. However, if we are talking about the Thun Group, we are referring to a financial sector initiative that brings together the following entities: Barclays, BBVA, BNP Paribas, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, ING, ROBS, UBS, Unicredit and WestLB with the support of the Competence Center for Human Rights (within the University of Zurich).
The Thun Group was founded with the desire to contribute to the implementation of the “Guiding principles on business and human rights” in the financial sector. Certainly, the new framework established by United Nations to protect, respect and remedy human rights by companies sets a new and very valuable precedent in this field. It is, however, necessary to incorporate these principles to each business sector that is experiencing different circumstances. For example, our greatest human rights impact in the financial sector is mostly indirect, through our financing and investment.
On March 12 and 13, BBVA had the chance to participate for the first time in this group, sharing our experience in this field and exchanging views with other entities with whom we share concerns and good practices. The result of this work group was a first draft of a practical document, an orientation guide for financial institutions. Similarly, we undertook to develop a list of United Nations agencies, organizations and interest groups in general to be consulted on these first draft guidelines to understand and integrate their suggestions.
Since these principles were adopted in June 2011 at the United Nations Human Rights Council, it seems that talking about this subject in the business environment is no longer talking about science fiction. Recent developments were carried out showing the growing importance of the “Guiding principles on business and human rights”, including:
- In the review of the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, a specific mention was made to the guiding principles. And more importance is given to National Contact Points (NCP).
- The IFC, in its “New policy on environmental and social sustainability” refers to these principles.
- The EU strategy on CSR (2011-2014) includes sector-specific developments (for employment agencies, extractive industry and ITC) that address this issue.
Although these guiding principles are soft-law, national courts are increasingly tending to take on denouncements against the actions of companies outside its jurisdiction (see Kiobel vs. Shell case).
In Thun Group we have set the challenge of working to integrate the human rights variable in everyday business processes.
Beatriz Alonso, Corporate Responsibility BBVA