BNP Paribas formal notice in the name of “duty of vigilance”

Three French NGOs want to force the hand of BNP Paribas to stop the bank from investing in fossil fuels. Oxfam, Friends of the Earth and Notre Affaire à Tous have sent a letter of formal notice to France’s largest bank, demanding that it stop financing oil and gas development to align with the objective of the Paris Agreement, which involves limiting global warming to 1.5°C. This formal notice is the first step in legal action.

“We have been discussing and negotiating with banks on the subject for more than thirty years, explained Frédéric Amiel, coordinator of Friends of the Earth France. We have had enough of empty promises and are now relying on justice in the hope that it will accelerate the withdrawal of fossil fuels. » This summons comes on the eve of “Climate Finance Day”, a large gathering of financial players in Paris on investment ” green “.

Duty of care

The NGOs have chosen as an angle of attack the law on the duty of vigilance, a text adopted in 2017 which obliges companies with more than 5,000 employees in France to set up “reasonable due diligence measures to identify risks and prevent serious harm” towards human rights, health but also the environment within the parent company, its subsidiaries and subcontractors.

The law was passed after years of debate, following the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh in 2013, which killed 1,200 people. In the case of BNP Paribas, the complaint would be based on shortcomings within the parent company.

Why do associations target BNP Paribas? They believe that the bank’s vigilance plan is insufficient in environmental matters. In support, the recommendation made in 2021 by the International Energy Agency, which had estimated that to keep warming below the level of 1.5°C, it would be necessary to immediately stop engaging in any new oil or gas.

Direct and indirect investments

The NGOs not only want the BNP to stop directly supporting (via loans for example) any new oil or gas project. But also that it withdraw its participation in companies that would continue to invest in new fossil projects. According to a report published by a collective of international NGOs – including Reclaim Finance in France – under the title of “Banking on Climate Chaos”, the BNP would have invested via loans, issues of shares and bonds 55 billion euros between 2016 and 2021 in these energies.

For its part, the bank undertook this year to align its activities with the objective of keeping global warming below 1.5°C, and to stop financing companies where more than 10% of their activity is linked to oil sands or shale oil and gas. It has also pledged to reduce its activities in oil and gas production by 12% by 2025.

But it does not practice a strategy of exclusion vis-à-vis conventional oil and gas projects, which the associations criticize. The formal notice requires a response within three months. Otherwise, they will take the company to court.

Several actions in progress

In recent years, NGOs have multiplied their recourse to the duty of vigilance to try to obtain environmental guarantees from companies. But none have yet been brought to trial. The first is set to take place next December, targeting TotalEnergies’ EACOP and Tilenga projects in Africa, which involve the drilling of 450 wells, and the construction of what would be the largest pipeline in the world.

Several cases are still at the formal notice or summons stage. Thus, in October, several NGOs called on nine agri-food or large-scale distribution companies to take measures to combat plastic pollution. Several cases are also in progress on the respect of human rights by the subsidiaries and subcontractors of French multinationals.

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