The dynamics of ethics
How Rabobank approaches ethical issues
'It is permitted by law and it isn’t specifically covered in Rabobank’s Code of Conduct, but I wonder if this is something we as Rabobank really want to be doing.' Rabobank employees encounter ethical dilemmas in their day-to-day work in banking. These dilemmas arise because, for example, customers, the market and society are changing faster than the establishment of norms in legislation and codes. Rabobank wants to have a culture in which employees discuss ethical issues with each other and take all the stakeholders into account. The Ethics Committee and the Ethics Office support employees in this area.
Experience has shown that the dilemmas span a broad spectrum. Examples include the development or use of a certain financial product and the application of new technology. They can also relate to carrying out transactions in specific sectors owing to issues involving animal welfare, environmental impact, human health or dignity.
Ethics Office: giving guidance and advice
Employees can turn to the Ethics Office for advice on ethical issues. It bases its advice both on recommendations and considerations made with respect to previous situations and on the Rabobank Code of Conduct. The Ethics Office also looks for guidance to the internal conduct guidelines and national and international external codes and guidelines on topics such as human rights and the environment to which the bank subscribes.
Ethics Committee: assessing new and complex issues
Ethics Office places new or complex issues for which there is not yet a ready-to-use answer on the agenda of the Ethics Committee that meets six times a year. This committee was established in 1998 and assesses practical situations that have an underlying ethical issue and weighs them against Rabobank’s norms and values.
The Ethics Committee has now ruled on many hundreds of cases in this manner and in doing so has provided employees with guidance that helps them in their daily work. The Ethics Committee also commissions reviews of existing policy and guidelines. It furthermore discusses general social developments with respect to which the bank is expected to take an ethical stance. Employees can consult the Ethics Committee’s recommendations as a guiding principle for people’s actions within the organisation.
The Ethics Committee’s composition represents a broad cross-section of the organisation. In addition to a number of Chairs of local Rabobank Boards of Directors, the committee members include, for example, employees with overall responsibility for compliance, sustainability, retail customer service, communications and international trade flow financing. The Chairman of the Rabobank Executive Board chairs the Ethics Committee.
While the recommendations of the Ethics Committee and the Ethics Office are followed in practice, they are not binding. The idea behind making them non-binding is that this makes it easier for employees to share ethical dilemmas. It promotes the dialogue and helps raise ethical awareness within the bank and consequently encourages employees to act responsibly in their day-to-day work.