Social responsibility guidelines for Chinese banks

The Chinese blog of International Rivers reported that the China Banking Association published a set of social responsibility guidelines for its members on 12 January. (A full translation has since appeared on their English site; the quotes below are my translations.) Article 20 specifies banks’ obligations towards the projects they finance:

Banks and financial institutions, through credit and other financial instruments, should support clients in conserving resources [and] protecting the environment; guide and encourage clients in increasing social responsibility awaraness […]; actively train clients in environmental protection; trainings should include, but not be limited to, concrete procedures for environmental impact assessment. […] It is encouraged to conduct independent assessments of projects’ environmental impact; decisions cannot be based solely on the environmental impact assessment reports or other documents submitted by the client.

This is of course already a legal requirement in China, so let us see whether it will now be enforced for international projects. No similar requirements refer to social impact assessment, and only this article refers to safeguards for lending. The rest of the document refers to measures to be taken by the banks within their own organisations. Like other documents on CSR coming out of Chinese state institutions so far, it is strikingly different from what this term covers in Western parlance and fits more into the state discourse of “harmonious development” (which, according to Article 1, the document intends to serve). 

Thus, Article 3 defines social responsibility as “economic, legal, moral and charitable responsibility to shareholders, employees, business partners, government and community.” It is not something that has to be considered additionally to and possibly in conflict with business interests and legal obligations, but rather their expansion.

The rest of the document details these responsibilities in a vague and tautological fashion, without proposing standards or measures. Thus, social responsibility is said to entail “actively protecting the social public interest [sic] of consumers, workers, and the community masses in accordance with the requirements of social morality and public interest; promoting charitable responsibility, actively throwing oneself into activities for the public good” (Article 3, Section 2).

Articles 6 to 10 discuss “Economic responsibility;” this includes “opposing unfair competition,” “protecting the interests of shareholders, especially medium and small shareholders;” “creating value” for shareholders and employees; and protecting consumers. Articles 12-15 deal in more detail with “Social responsibility.” This includes educating consumers, popularizing financial knowledge, “promoting ‘people at the centre’ [the current Party leadership’s slogan], taking employees’ health safety to heart, caring about employees’ lives […] fanning employees’ work enthusiasm, initiative and creativity. It also includes “supporting the economic development of the community, […] enthusiastically donating for charitable and volunteer activities, […] making an effort to build social harmony and social progress.”

The final articles propose that banks audit their own social responsibility and report on it.

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