It would seem that activities of a bank have little to do with corporate social responsibility or human rights. But you manage to prove there is a close connection.
Małgorzata Zdzienicka-Grabarz, Bank BGŻ BNP Paribas: There is a close connection – offering financial products to our clients, we want to know how the funds will be spent. We want the customers to use them to make the world a better place but first and foremost we make sure that our financing does not support actions that are non-responsible, for instance by violating human rights.
This sounds rather grandiloquent.
This is what the mission statement of Bank BGŻ BNP Paribas says. It also works in practice. In our bank, not only in Poland but also in other, foreign branches, we have a system for monitoring the risk of seven sensitive sectors in place. This applies for instance to the defence, forestry, agriculture, food, coal or mining sectors. So if a client operating in one of those industries applies for financing, they must pass a certain procedure before being approved.
What does it look like in practice?
The first thing they have to do is fill out a special form. For example: we are approached by an investor who wants to build a processing plant. But before he gets the loan, we check the potential impact of the investment on the surroundings. We consider both environmental protection and the impact on local community. We verify whether all the conditions have been met and if there was dialogue with the local community.
There are sectors where companies cannot count on your financing?
Yes, we have recently started the exit from the tobacco sector. This was a decision made in October 2017 for the whole BNP Paribas Group, after a series of negotiations with the representatives of that sector and after studies on their impact on human rights, health and the environment.
Is this the only industry?
We are also withdrawing from the financing of fur animal breeding. And – because of significant climate changes and the smog hazard – also from the coal sector.
What will you support instead?
Withdrawing from the financing of coal, we develop the product offer for renewable energy sources as we want to support clients in transitioning to low-carbon economy. There is an entirely new area we are entering right now – social business. The bank's management board has decided that we are going to be that bank for such entrepreneurs in Poland.
Wouldn't it be easier to run a business based purely on profit rather than risk with social business?
It is a niche and not the bank's primary object. But it's very good that the BNP Paribas Group offers loans for such initiatives. It is obviously not easy for us because on the one hand this activity is profit-based, on the other hand 30 percent of the financing may come from grants. Thus far, such companies haven't been treated as clients at all. It is a completely new approach that requires us to step out of our comfort zone. But we want the entrepreneurs deciding to have their business solve important social problems to be not only appreciated by the society but also treated seriously by financial institutions.
Do such institutions as banks have to pursue CSR activities or is this just good will on their part?
When I got involved with CSR 12 years ago, this was just good will. Today, this is strategic thinking about the essence of business. We can see that these are increasingly often legally regulated activities. Like for instance large companies being obligated to report non-financial data. We've been doing this since 2010 and it is completely normal to us. This allows as to examine our social and environmental impact and draw year-to-year comparisons. It is our company's tradition and everyone at the bank is committed to gathering non-financial data and to analysing why, for instance, we have such high paper consumption and what can be done to change this. And why do we do this? We are striving for consistency between who we are in our private lives and who we are in our daily work.
Is CSR an area for large companies only or for small business as well?
I think that large companies have considerable understanding of social responsibility and this clear change is noticeable. I believe that this awareness accompanies small businesses from the very beginning. Because a small business is closer to people's daily life.
Is the commitment to run a socially responsible business also reflected in how employees are treated at a company?
This is a key area of corporate responsibility. We try to consistently implement the best HR practices, as perfectly evidenced by the accolade we get every year – the Top Employers certificate. Within the process, we come under close scrutiny in terms of employee benefits, which helps us polish the standards, such as a possibility of taking additional time off for important family events. We also have two days a year that our employees can devote to charity or volunteer work.
Do employees want to do volunteer work?
We all have a need to get involved but sometimes we don't know how to do this. So Bank BNP Paribas has invested in a professional team of experts who support the employees ready to devote their time to volunteer work. According to our data, 16 percent of our staff get involved in such projects.
Does this bind people with the company? Market research shows that it does. And I think what is much more important is that the company makes room for that in the development of its identity. This is not a waste of time. Recently, just as we do every year, we have announced volunteering projects to be subsidised, and we can see the spontaneous joy and satisfaction of those who have succeeded. And what's important, such involvement is highly valued by the company. The winning teams receive a letter from the CEO acknowledging their commitment and contribution to the volunteering project. These are little things but they definitely help people feel that their work is meaningful.