Swiss Banks Cooperate with Human Rights Abusers

Zurich, 15.04.2010 - Forced Labor in Uzbekistan, forced displacement in Papua-New Guinea, toxic waste in Côte d'Ivoire: time and again, Credit Suisse und UBS are seen cooperating with companies accused of human rights abuses. The Bern Declaration (BD) urges Switzerland’s largest banks to develop binding human rights standards and to make them accessible to public view.

The BD investigated the financial links between the two largest Swiss banks and companies embroiled in controversies about serious human rights abuses – involving the right to life, the right to safety, the right to health and the right to food among others. Credit Suisse, for instance, is an important player in the financing of cotton exports from Uzbekistan. Cotton production in this Central Asian country is based on a state-controlled system of forced labor including child labor. UBS on the other hand bankrolls a company that operates a mine in an area of Papua-New Guinea from which residents have been forcibly expelled and their homes burnt to the ground. These and 17 other cases are documented on the BD-campaign-website launched today.

In recent years, the work of UN Special Representative for Business and Human Rights, John Ruggie, has revitalized the debate about the duty of corporations to respect human rights. Mr. Ruggie established that most corporations have no procedures in place that might provide evidence for a serious commitment to human rights. Yet such procedures of due diligence are indispensable according the Special Representative to hold corporations to their responsibility to respect and protect human rights.
This is precisely what we ask Credit Suisse and UBS to do – no more and no less.
We want the two banks to develop a comprehensive human rights policy including a prior, in-depth investigation into the possible effects on human rights of all business activities planned. The implementation of this policy must be guaranteed by standards and procedures developed by each company and made publicly accessible like those of other global banks. There is no more room for secrecy in the banking sector.