Mobile Nav

Financial Institutions

For years, we’ve worked with some of the most prominent public and private sector institutions around the world to help them develop the right strategic and hands-on approach to human rights

Financial Institutions

Learn more about our work with:
Commercial Banks Export Credit Agencies Development Finance Investors Industry Standards


Most financial institutions are connected to a huge range of impacts on people through their relationships with corporate and government clients, or through the companies or projects they invest in.

To those who are working from within financial institutions to try and steer the ship in the right direction, the task can seem overwhelming. Where does your institution’s responsibility start and end? How do you manage these issues at such scale? How do you prioritize action, with limited time and resources? What should you do if harm has occurred, and remedy is needed?


“Before the UNGPs came to be, financial institutions were only considered responsible for what was at arm’s length. The Guiding Principles transformed that. Financial institutions are now expected to look across their entire portfolios, as vast and diverse as they may be; they must go beyond their direct client relationships and seek to use their leverage to address some of the most systemic human rights risks that exist today.” 
David Kovick, Senior Advisor at Shift


At Shift, we’ve been wrestling with how to bring a human rights lens to existing environmental and social risk management or ESG due diligence systems for some time now. And it’s true that there is no single, easy answer. But approaching these questions with the right mindset, and helping financial institutions build a roadmap to engage with these challenges is something we love doing.

Over more than eight years, we’ve worked with some of the most prominent public and private sector financial institutions around the world to help them develop the right strategic and hands-on approach to five fundamental challenges: 



The answers to these questions will vary depending on the portfolio, mandate and structure of each institution. But whether it is in retail banking, corporate lending, project finance or investment, financial institutions need to start off on the right foot. And, as a mission-driven center of expertise, we are here to help.


Our recent work in this space

  • Commercial banks

    Previous or current engagements include: | ABN AMRO | Citi Group | ING | Wells Fargo | Westpac |

    Shift has worked with a number of private banks on the challenges they face in integrating respect for human rights throughout their operations, including assessing human rights risks across huge numbers of client relationships and pushing the current approach to disclosure in the financial sector, while respecting client confidentiality.

  • Export credit agencies

    We've worked with: | GIEK (Norway) | Atradius DSB (The Netherlands) | Export Development Canada (EDC) | Finnvera (Finland) | EKN (Sweden) |

    Shift has worked with export credit agencies to help them develop policies and deepen practices on high-risk screening for human rights impacts, the use of leverage with clients and on stakeholder engagement and grievance handling. Our in-depth assessment of Atradius DSB’s approach is the first such comprehensive evaluation of an ECA against the UNGPs. You can read it here.

  • National development finance institutions
    We've worked with: CDK (UK) | FMO (the Netherlands) | FinnFund (Finland) | DEG  Germany |
    Shift has worked with a number of institutions to support the integration of human rights due diligence into their existing environmental and social risk management approaches in both their direct investment and financial intermediary portfolios. Our team has delivered workshops at headquarters and in high risk markets such as Ethiopia, Honduras and Tunisia, and supported their development of guidance notes and tools for clients and investment managers. For example, see our collaboration with CDC on human rights guidance for their investment managers and our program report on Finland's State Financing for Private Sector Activity Abroad.
  • Institutional investors and asset managers

    We've worked with: Swedish AP Funds | Norway’s NBIM | PGGM (Netherlands) | New Zealand Superannuation Fund

    Shift has worked with several leading asset owners and asset managers on supporting the alignment of their approaches to human rights due diligence, including client engagement, with the expectations of the UN Guiding Principles. This work connects closely to our focus on improving how we evaluate companies’ performance on human rights in practice through our Valuing Respect Project.

    “Shift has given us unique, expert insight and tools that have enabled us to pragmatically work toward our goal of effectively implementing the UN Guiding Principles.” - Kamil Zabielski, Senior Social and Human Rights Specialist, GIEK

  • Driving Industry Standards

    We've worked with: the International Finance Corporation | Equator Principles Association | Dutch Banking Agreement

    In 2018, Shift also provided expert advice to the Equator Principles Association, to further embed human rights in the leading framework used by over 90 private and public financial institutions in 37 countries around the world to assess and manage environmental and social risks in project finance-related.

    This drew on our earlier collaboration with the International Finance Corporation (IFC) to help bring clarity to the relationship between the UN Guiding Principles and implementation of the IFC’s Environmental and Social Performance Standards. Key insights from that work are captured in our public report on Human Rights Due Diligence in High-Risk Circumstances, which has influenced a number of financial institutions’ practice, including through the 2016 revision of the OECD Common Approaches for Export Credit Agencies. We also published a short note on this as part of our expert input to an independent evaluation of Norway’s integration of the UBN Guiding Principles into overseas development assistance.

    We played a key advisory role supporting the development of the Dutch Banking Agreement (DBA) - a unique global space for collaboration between banks, NGOs and government on what banks’ human rights responsibilities really mean in practice. We now participate as experts in two multi-stakeholder working groups established as part of the implementation of the DBA: one on the role of banks in enabling remedy, and another on the potential for banks to take a whole-of-value-chain approach to understand their connections to systemic human rights risks beyond their immediate client relationships, deep in their clients’ own value chains. Read the value chain working group’s first analysis of human rights risks in a commodity in the cocoa supply chain here.

    “In our work on fostering sustainable supply chain management among Dutch industry, Shift has been extremely helpful in elevating the policy discussion and business practice in the area of business and human rights. The Shift team’s unique combination of strategic policy advice and practical experience with companies and other stakeholders has been invaluable to our work.” - Mariëtte Hamer, President, Social and Economic Council of the Netherlands

  • Other work we're excited about
    • Finland. Shift is working with the Finish government to support a comprehensive approach to better integration of the UN Guiding Principles into the work of the five state agencies and programs that provide the bulk of state financing to Finnish businesses investing abroad, including the export credit agency and national development finance institution. This is a rare example of a state taking a holistic approach to meeting its own duty to protect when it comes to providing financial support to business.


    • Financial Sector Commission on Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking – An initiative of the governments of Liechtenstein and Australia, supported by the UN University, the Commission is an influential group of actors from the financial sector and modern slavery worlds, with an ambitious agenda to identify what the financial sector can do to scale up its contribution to tackling modern slavery, rather than focusing on what gets in the way. Shift is providing expert input to the Commission’s work including through a briefing paper summarizing what we see as the key questions confronting the financial sector on human rights now.
Learn more

If you are interested in learning more about a specific area of our work on financial institutions, or about how Shift can work with your institution, contact us

See all activities and content related to this program

Dissecting Human Rights Disclosure: a Tool for Investors (Gender)

March 2020

This resource is part of a growing collection designed to help investors read and interpret corporate human rights disclosure. This specific resource focuses on excerpts from company reporting on company efforts to tackle gender-based impacts.

Dissecting Human Rights Disclosure: a Tool for Investors (Vulnerable Stakeholders)

March 2020

This resource is part of a growing collection designed to help investors read and interpret corporate human rights disclosure. This specific resource focuses on excerpts from company reporting on engagement with vulnerable stakeholders.

Rethinking Remedy & Responsibility in the Financial Sector

May 2019

Senior Advisor David Kovick explains Shift's ecosystem approach to remedy, and how financial institutions can benefit from incorporating it to close the gap with traditional approaches.

Tackling Modern Slavery through Financial Sector Leverage

January 2019 | Liechtenstein Initiative | Partners: Liechtenstein Initiative

This briefing paper was commissioned by the United Nations University, as part of the Liechtenstein Initiative for a Financial Sector Commission's efforts to push beyond the boundaries of compliance towards creative financial sector action to prevent and address modern slavery and human trafficking.

Human Rights Due Diligence in High Risk Circumstances

March 2015 | Shift

This resource focuses on how to do human rights due diligence in high risk circumstances – and how to identify those circumstances in the first place.

Close Overlay