Banks – Where is the A in CSR?

CSR – corporate social responsibility – is a form of corporate self-regulation integrated into a business model. Traditionally, CSR has had a focus on sustainability in regard to communities and the environment.

The Australian Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility (ACCSR) offers this definition of CSR:

Social responsibility is the responsibility of an organisation for the impacts of its decisions and activities on society and the environment, through transparent and ethical behaviour that:

  • Contributes to sustainable development, including the health and the welfare of society
  • Takes into account the expectations of stakeholders
  • Is in compliance with applicable law and consistent with international norms of behaviour, and
  • Is integrated throughout the organization and practised in its relationships.

What does it say about the treatment of animals?

The ACCSR website notes that

Supply chain CSR issues include human rights of outsourced workers, ethical sourcing, prompt payment, use of migrant workers, doing business with oppressive regimes, treatment of animals and environmental impacts in the supply chain.

and

Many studies suggest that consumers are more likely to purchase from socially responsible firms or avoid purchases from socially irresponsible firms, and consumer preferences for products that are good for the environment (organic, or not tested on animals) are well documented. CSR issues for consumers include product manufacturing (e.g. human rights of workers, product safety), labelling and packaging (disclosure and completeness), marketing and advertising practices, selling practices (redress) and pricing. Australia’s tough regulatory environment does not necessarily protect corporations from rising CSR-related expectations of consumers.

In a recent article in the Harvard Business Review, John Browne, a former chief executive of BP, argues that CSR does not work. He proposes a new model, “connected leadership”. What he proposes boils down to good management and effective engagement with stakeholders. Not a radical proposition, I’d say.

Anyway, if companies engage with their stakeholders, they will find – as indicated on the ACCSR website – that an increasing number of people are concerned about the fair treatment of animals. To some, this means good animal welfare while or before the animals are used for the benefit of humans. For others, it means not using animals for our purposes because they are not ours to use; we share this planet with animals who exist for their own purposes.

How do animals feature in banks’ CSR policies?

In February, I wrote about a bank that takes a stand against experimenting on non-human primates. ING, a bank with headquarters in the Netherlands, has a policy that rules out financing the following:

  • Animal testing for cosmetic purposes
  • Sponsoring requests for events with animals where the Five Animal Freedoms are not respected
  • Animal trade involving endangered species for commercial purposes
  • Use of endangered species or non-human primates for any testing/ experimental purposes
  • Support of any type of animal fights for entertainment
  • Operating fur farms
  • The trade and manufacturing of fur products
  • The development of genetic engineering or genetic modification on plants or animals for non-medical purposes.

I checked the websites of the major Australian banks listed on the ASX to see what their CSR policies say about the treatment of animals. This is what I found:

Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Limited (ASX code: ANZ)

The ANZ’s corporate sustainability policy does not mention animals. But the ANZ Corporate Sustainability Report. Interim Report 2014 provides a case study on the live cattle export (on page 8):

A funding opportunity emerged in the first half of this financial year with a leading agriculture business connected to live cattle exports. The company breeds cattle in Australia and sells them prior to export.

Given the sensitive nature of live cattle export, ANZ worked with the customer to ensure compliance with best practice Australian standards for overseas export and animal welfare through Australian accredited live exporters and the Australian Government’s Export Supply Chain Assurance Program (ESCA).

ANZ conducted a thorough due diligence investigation to examine all animal welfare issues associated with the company’s live animal export exposure. This included a detailed assessment of their supply chain and the use and suitability of animal welfare assurance programs. Through the assessment we concluded that the company, while selling the cattle prior to export and therefore technically not undertaking live animal export itself, was taking the necessary steps to ensure that the welfare of its cattle was protected. The cattle were being sold only through three accredited exporting companies, all of which adhere to the ESCA compliance programs.

Based on the due diligence undertaken to ensure that the company was appropriately managing its supply chain risks in relation to animal welfare, ANZ agreed to provide funding. We are now working with this customer on an ongoing basis, providing advisory services to ensure their operations continue to meet the strict criteria outlined in relevant national standards.

I’d like to know which company this is and how it managed to protect the welfare of its cattle after they were sold. Animals Australia’s investigations have exposed large scale cruel treatment of exported animals. If one company was able to protect the welfare of animals in their destination countries, other companies and the public would be very interested to know how this was achieved.

The ANZ sponsors Zoos Victoria and Taronga and Western Plains Zoo.

Auswide Bank Limited (ASX code: ABA)

Auswide Bank’s corporate social responsibility policy has a focus on the community, the environment, the marketplace and the workplace. It does not mention animals.

Bank of Queensland Limited (ASX code: BOQ)

The Bank of Queensland’s sustainability policy concentrates on “customers, staff, investors and the communities we operate in”. The bank’s website provides a long list of focus areas, but animals do not feature in these. Nor does the bank’s Sustainability Scorecard allude to animals.

Bendigo and Adelaide Bank (ASX code: BEN)

The Bendigo and Adelaide Bank supports community projects to strengthen the communities their customers live in. For more than ten years the bank has had a partnership with the RSPCA to help raise funds for homeless animals. This involves RSPCA credit cards through which donations to the RSPCA can be made in various ways.

By signing up for and shopping with a RSPCA Rescue VISA Card, you are helping to fund the RSPCA’s national Adoptapet program. … So far these fantastic cards have raised over $1.5 million helping to re-home more than 200,000 animals.

Commonwealth Bank of Australia (ASX code: CBA)

Commbank has a corporate responsibility strategy. As expressed in the bank’s approach to sustainable supply chain management, Commbank expects “our people” to “Act in a socially responsible and ethical way”. However, none of these nor the supplier code of conduct include any reference to the treatment of animals.

Mystate Limited (ASX code: MYS)

The Mystate Bank is a Tasmanian financial institution. Through the MyState Foundation, it provides grants to community organisations.

“The MyState Foundation’s mission is to help educate, nurture, support and advance the interests of Tasmania’s young people.

On the bank’s website I did not find any reference to animals.

National Australia Bank Limited (ASX code: NAB)

NAB Group’s Supplier Sustainability Principles are impressive. For example, they touch on such issues as environmental management, climate change, and an inclusive and diverse workforce.

We believe that we have an important role to play in positively influencing the long-term sustainability of the planet by reducing both the direct and indirect environmental dependencies and impacts of our operations. Our environmental agenda focuses on three areas that we believe are most material to our business – efficient use of resources, understanding and minimising our dependency and impact on biodiversity and ecosystems; and addressing the issue of climate change.

In 2015, NAB provided $59.2 m in community investment (0.65% of statutory net profit before tax). Of this, the major proportion was spent on education and young people (25%) and sport (28%).

Again, I could not find any reference to animals on the NAB web pages.

Westpac Banking Corporation (ASX code: WBC)

The 2015 Westpac Group Sustainability Performance Report lists three sustainability strategies priorities: embracing societal change, environmental solutions, and better financial futures. The bank contributes in various ways to communities, such as grants and scholarships, support of social enterprises, and financial literacy education programs.

The Westpac Foundation Community Grants eligibility criteria state that “Projects that support animals or to promote animal welfare” are not eligible for community grants. This is the only reference to animals I could find on the various web pages outlining Westpac’s CSR approach. How disappointing!

However, the bank’s employees have raised funds for several animal charities.

Overall, I find it disappointing that the banks’ CSR policies do not reflect the inclusion of animals in ethical considerations. But that’s perhaps to be expected, given that very few financial institutions here in Australia consider the treatment of animals even in ethical investment products. Cruelty Free Super is a notable exception.

On the other hand, this means there is lots of room for improvement. ING has shown that it is possible.

 

 

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