Every year, Canadians are encouraged to invest their savings in Registered Retirement Savings Plans (RRSPs) purchased through their bank or credit union. Most mutual fund indices, even ethical funds, are a mix of companies and industries, including the oil, gas and mining sector. Unfortunately, Canada’s oil, gas and mining sector has been linked to human rights and environmental harms around the world.
But, many Canadians believe that their investments should not harm human rights or health. For this reason, many Canadians choose to not invest in funds which contain tobacco companies and weapons manufacturers. Now, Canadians are asking themselves whether investing in oil, gas or mining companies is harmful to the planet and to human rights and if they should continue to invest in such industries.
Over the last decade, banks and other investors have also recognized that they have a duty not only to handle clients’ funds responsibly, but to make sure their business transactions don’t harm human rights. A number of international investment initiatives and guidelines have been launched. The big banks have developed investment guidelines and policies that take into account a variety of factors, including social, environmental, human rights, and governance issues.
Amnesty International Canada has reviewed the policies and stakeholder initiatives of four major Canadian banks and we have analysed their investments in companies linked to human rights harms. Not all Canadians bank with the major banks, however, so we have also reviewed the investing guidelines of the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board. The CPPIB also invests in companies linked to human rights abuses.
Amnesty International Canada has raised human rights concerns with several banks and the CPPIB over the last decade. We have also met with human rights defenders over the last decade who are struggling to protect their lands and rights from harmful extractives operations. After looking at the facts, we believe banks and pension funds must do more to live up to their policies. After all, many banks received awards and accolades for their policies.
But based on the evidence, and despite these great policies, banks are still investing in companies that harm human rights. We think that’s wrong. Canada’s banks should improve the way their policies are applied to their investment decisions. They should also tell companies that they are expected to respect human rights in all their interactions with the communities where they do business. We think banks and the CPPIB should make any progress on those discussions public.
LEARN MORE: Invest Your Values Q & A