The General Assembly marathon: No fewer than 27 AGMs were held simultaneously last Wednesday, 17 May 2023. A coincidence? Those who wanted to keep an eye on heavyweights like Deutsche Bank, EON or Fresenius had to decide in advance. Facing Finance has been campaigning for many years for better lending and investment policies for financial institutions, and has criticised Deutsche Bank for its lack of policies in sectors such as plastics and pharmaceuticals, for its environmentally damaging lending and for a worrying lack of diversity on its board.
Together with the Association of Critical Shareholders, Facing Finance submitted questions on seven topics to Deutsche Bank in advance. Thanks to the transmission of the right to speak by the Association, Facing Finance was able to speak live at the Annual General Meeting on the topic of plastics. In the sections below, we have summarised the main points of the responses.
- Since the last AGM, have any efforts been made to develop a financing and investment policy on the issue of single-use plastics in the interest of the bank’s shareholders?
- If so, will it take into account the full life cycle of plastics, including raw material extraction, processing, product manufacture and distribution?
- If so, when can shareholders expect to see an appropriate financing and investment policy in relation to single-use plastics?
- If not, why is the issue of single-use plastics not a priority for Deutsche Bank, given the climate, environmental and social impacts on the one hand, and the growing risk of stranded assets on the other?
Overproduction, negative public perception, the rapid introduction of new legislation in many countries, the EU and the expected conclusion of a global and binding UN plastics treaty by 2024 and the resulting decline in demand are just some of the reasons why analysts are increasingly classifying single-use plastics as risky. Potential stranded assets include, in particular, the financing of new facilities for the production of single-use plastics.
However, despite the fact that the business model of consumer goods companies and food retailers that rely on single-use packaging is increasingly being questioned, Deutsche Bank announced at its 2022 Annual General Meeting that it has not developed any financing or investment guidelines on the issue of single-use plastics. On the contrary, as several studies by non-governmental organisations have shown in recent years, Deutsche Bank finances all stages of the single-use plastic value chain to the tune of billions of euros.
Response from Deutsche Bank
We follow the development of many issues in the field of sustainability. This also includes the discussion on the topic of plastic.
Our requirements for in-depth due diligence cover cross-industry and industry-specific environmental as well as social aspects. We are continuously reviewing whether we need to extend our policies to other issues.
We expect all companies, regardless of their industry affiliation or specific issues, to comply with applicable law and adhere to internationally recognised standards.
Among other important issues, we also consider challenges related to plastics in our existing policies. However, we do not see any need for a dedicated plastics policy at present.
Irrespective of this, the bank is involved in initiatives that address, for example, the negative impact of plastic waste on the oceans. The Bank continued its partnership in the Ocean Risk and Resilience Action Alliance.
The Bank is also working to avoid plastic waste in its own operations. At most of the Bank’s locations in Germany and the UK, plastic tableware and cutlery, straws and bags from catering facilities, vending machines and canteens are being replaced with reusable alternatives.
- Is Deutsche Bank taking any steps to improve the gender diversity of its Managing Board?
- If so, what measures is the Bank taking and what progress has been made over the last three years?
- If not, why is gender equality not a priority at the top levels of the Bank?
Research shows time and again: Diverse management teams are more profitable. The current management board of Deutsche Bank is, above all, one thing: white and male. There are only two women at the table alongside eight men. A target beyond June 2022, which would indicate that Deutsche Bank aims to increase the proportion of women at board level to more than 20%, cannot be found on Deutsche Bank’s website. Diversity on the board, not only in terms of gender equality, looks different!
Response from Deutsche Bank
The proportion of women on the Management Board has increased over the last three years from 10% at the end of 2020 to 20% at the end of 2022.
As Alexander Wynaendts points out in his pre-published speech at the Annual General Meeting on 17 May, after the departure of Christiana Riley we fall short of our own aspiration that at least 20% of board members should be women. The Supervisory Board stands by its aspiration and will do everything to achieve it again over time.
The Management Board has undertaken to establish and develop a career plan for potential female successors in each case. Among other things, the Accomplished Top Leaders Advancement Strategy Programme (ATLAS) aims to empower high-potential women to take on broader responsibilities in top positions in the company.
- What strategies has Deutsche Bank developed to deal with greenwashing by the companies it finances and invests in?
- If Deutsche Bank detects greenwashing in a company, what are the consequences?
- How does the bank address legal risks or reputational damage from unrecognised greenwashing at financed and invested companies, and what steps does it take to ensure transparency and accountability in this regard?
- Does Deutsche Bank have any knowledge of the allegations of greenwashing that have been made against The Coca-Cola Company for a number of years now?
- After learning of the greenwashing allegations against The Coca-Cola Company, what action did Deutsche Bank take?
When companies present themselves as more sustainable and environmentally friendly than they or their products are, it is called “greenwashing”. According to the EU Commission, 53% of green advertising claims in the EU are “vague, misleading or unfounded”, 40% are considered unsubstantiated.
An example of greenwashing that has been raised several times by non-governmental organisations is that of The Coca-Cola Company. The decades-old strategy of the beverage giant: Set and market lofty goals, then secretly break, water down or postpone them.
Despite the well-known greenwashing allegations, Deutsche Bank continues to do business with Coca-Cola. Out of 121 funds classified as sustainable, 25 so-called ESG funds hold shares in Coca-Cola, i.e. 20%.
Response from Deutsche Bank
We expect our clients to comply with applicable law and adhere to internationally recognised standards. And the same applies to our own actions: We make our business decisions not only within the framework of the applicable laws, but also our own policies and voluntary commitments. This also applies to environmental and social aspects.
In performing our due diligence, we rely on published company information. In addition, we take into account a number of data sources that we obtain from independent third parties.
In addition, we believe it makes sense to maintain an intensive dialogue with companies and to also address the issue of greenwashing – where there may be risks. This is the only way we can address issues and contribute to change.
We make our decisions on the basis of the available information and possible risks. At the same time, we reaffirm our clear stance of wanting to support customers on the path to greater sustainability and only terminating individual customer relationships in exceptional cases.
Please understand that we will not comply with the request to provide information on potential or existing customer relationships and transactions at this Annual General Meeting.
- What measures does Deutsche Bank have in place to assess and reduce the impact of its financial activities on biodiversity?
- Is Deutsche Bank planning to publish the biodiversity footprint of its financial activities?
- How is Deutsche Bank preparing itself to meet the rapidly evolving regulatory requirements in the field of biological diversity?
In December 2002, nearly 200 countries adopted the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF). The framework agreement, which countries must now translate into national biodiversity strategies and action plans, aims to halt and reverse the rapid loss of biodiversity by 2030. The agreement also explicitly obliges companies and financial institutions to “Regularly monitor, assess, and transparently disclose their risks,dependencies and impacts on biodiversity” (Target 15). The international framework is part of a rapidly growing regulatory effort to halt the rapid loss of biodiversity. In the European Union, for example, the 2030 Biodiversity Strategy is part of the European Green Deal and is therefore closely linked to the EU’s sustainable finance efforts. Whether it is the EU Taxonomy, the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive or the Sustainable Finance Disclosure Regulation, biodiversity loss is addressed in all directives that also affect the financial sector.
The Fair Finance Guide Germany 2023 gives Deutsche Bank a poor grade for its environmental financing and investment policies. This means that Deutsche Bank meets far less than half of the standards that are required. To avoid potential regulatory and reputational risks, and in the interests of its shareholders, Deutsche Bank should proactively develop robust policies.
Response from Deutsche Bank
Our internal policies already address cross-sectoral issues, including aspects of biodiversity. Thus, measures to avoid deforestation or to preserve protected natural areas and natural heritage sites have been anchored in our requirements for in-depth environmental and social due diligence for years.
We are also involved in various initiatives. Thus, we have signed a declaration of intent in which we commit to supporting the UN Decade of Marine Research for Sustainable Development in Germany and are an official network partner of the German Ocean Decade Committee. We are also a partner of The Nature Conservancy. The aim of this partnership is to conserve or restore marine biodiversity in the Asia-Pacific region.
Deutsche Bank has been a member of the Forest Investor Club, which was founded as part of COP26, since November 2021. The network includes leading public and private financial institutions as well as other investors. It commits to promoting investment in reforestation, forest conservation, sustainable agriculture and forestry, and green infrastructure.
Last year, we also joined the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures and are working to determine the Bank’s biodiversity footprint.
At the Bank, we have created a working group on biodiversity/nature as part of our strategic initiatives and are planning further publications on biodiversity this year.
- Is Deutsche Bank planning a sector-specific financing and investment policy that takes into account the special characteristics of the pharmaceutical industry through strict environmental requirements in production facilities as well as disclosure obligations along the supply chain?
- Does Deutsche Bank conduct engagement discussions with pharmaceutical companies on social and environmental requirements along their supply chain (in particular on handling pharmaceutical waste and wastewater as well as increased antibiotic resistance at production sites for active pharmaceutical ingredients)?
The increase in antibiotic resistance is considered one of the greatest challenges for global health. Every year, more than 1 million people die from infections caused by resistant pathogens because antibiotics no longer work. India and China, major suppliers of active pharmaceutical ingredients to the rest of the world, are among the countries with increased rates of resistance in the population. The social importance of the sector and the need for financial resources are undeniable. But drug production should not make people sick, should not lead to the development of antibiotic resistance, and should not contaminate water or soil. Deutsche Bank is a financier and investor in pharmaceutical companies, but so far there has been no sector-specific public financing and investment policy.
Response from Deutsche Bank
We follow the development of many issues in the field of sustainability. This also includes dealing with sustainability in supply chains. Our requirements for in-depth due diligence cover cross-industry and industry-specific environmental as well as social aspects. We check to the best of our knowledge and belief whether we need to extend our specifications to further topics. At present, we do not see the need for independent policies that specifically address the supply chains of individual sectors.
We expect all companies, regardless of their industry affiliation, to comply with applicable law and follow internationally recognised standards, also with regard to their supply chains.
In addition, we consider our customers’ supply chains as part of our transaction-dependent environmental and social due diligence obligations.
To implement the German Supply Chain Sourcing Obligations Act, we have already implemented numerous measures and continue to work on the full implementation of the requirements and obligations arising from the Act for our direct suppliers and our own business operations.
- How does Deutsche Bank ensure that companies it finances do not violate the rights of local communities with traditional tenure rights?
- Do you plan to strengthen your human rights policy?
Deutsche Bank’s human rights policy expects the companies it finances to obtain free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) from indigenous peoples, but not from all affected communities, including those with traditional tenure rights.
Response from Deutsche Bank
For years, we have based our management approach to environmental and social issues on internationally recognised standards, such as the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. Consultation with affected local communities is an integral part of our internal due diligence.
Deutsche Bank will not engage in business activities where the Bank has reasonable indications of significant adverse human rights impacts. This also applies to activities where it is determined through the Bank’s internal processes that such adverse human rights impacts cannot be avoided or adequately mitigated.
We updated our human rights declaration again in February this year. You can find more information on our website in the Responsibility tab.
Our Questions: Arms directive
- When is Deutsche Bank going to publish a financing and investment policy for the defence sector (again)?
- Does Deutsche Bank distance itself from weapons of mass destruction prohibited under international law and is a complete exclusion of these weapons and their manufacturers planned for the entire Deutsche Bank Group?
In the past, Deutsche Bank has explicitly communicated its exclusion of controversial weapons manufacturers and its commitment to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in its Controversial Weapons Policy 2018. As the policy is no longer publicly available, Deutsche Bank’s position is unclear. The current policy only requires DWS to exclude landmines, cluster munitions, nuclear, chemical and biological weapons when managing client assets. A comprehensive exclusion of weapons categories outlawed under international law is standard in the financial sector and should also be extended to Deutsche Bank’s own investments and corporate loans or communicated transparently.
Response from Deutsche Bank (Question 1)
Deutsche Bank has defined extended due diligence obligations and exclusion criteria for transactions in the arms sector. Thus, for example, the bank does not finance outlawed weapons. Our internal policies for the defence sector are currently not publicly available, so please refer to the publication in our Non-Financial Report 2022 on page 61.
Response from Deutsche Bank (Question 2)
Deutsche Bank has a policy that condemns the use of numerous weapons systems. We replaced our Cluster Bomb Policy with the “Controversial Weapons Policy” in May 2018. This now includes chemical, biological, nuclear and radiological weapons and anti-personnel landmines. We terminate business relationships with companies affected by the directive to the extent legally possible.
Business relationships with companies potentially active in the area of controversial weapons are only considered if the company makes a declaration that it excludes controversial weapons business and is not active in this area. Deutsche Bank will not consider involvement in transactions related to specific weapons, in particular anti-personnel landmines, cluster bombs or chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear weapons.
Deutsche Bank has business relationships with large multinational conglomerates and typically provides general financing. In addition, Deutsche Bank may hold assets such as equities and bonds at the client’s request or as part of a fund strategy requested by the client.
Deutsche Bank declines to enter into transactions in which a participating company has a connection to controversial weapons systems.
Our questions: Arms transactions in conflict areas
- Has Deutsche Bank changed its position on specific commercial arms deals or on specific areas of crisis and conflict since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine?
- Are there areas of conflict in which Deutsche Bank now accompanies or would accompany arms deals that it would have ruled out before the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine?
- If so, for which countries has the position changed and on what grounds have these countries been reassessed?
The European arms industry positions itself as a guarantor of European security and freedom. However, many of the companies supplying arms to Ukraine in support of its right to self-defence also supply conflict parties in other war and crisis zones. Although the arms industry presents itself as a supplier to the European security authorities, it is also often involved in supplying arms to warring states in the world’s most devastating wars (e.g. arms exports to the Saudi Arabia-led military alliance in the Yemen war).
Response from Deutsche Bank
Since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Deutsche Bank’s policy on arms deals has not changed. For defence-related transactions, in line with our policy, we continue to apply a strict case-by-case approach to all defence-related transactions.
In particular, we ensure that there are no export restrictions or bans imposed by the governments of the European Union, the United Kingdom, the USA or Germany. In this case-by-case assessment, we also take into account the geopolitical situation of the recipient country.
Deutsche Bank does not enter into business relationships that have clear and direct links to a country in conflict – or to a country identified as a key military actor in a country in conflict if the underlying end-user is the military or police.
In summary, Deutsche Bank policies aim to ensure responsible and sustainable business conduct and to protect the Bank from reputational risk. We are very conscious of this responsibility.
Our questions: Arm deals and human rights violations
- What does Deutsche Bank do to prevent itself from getting involved in arms deals that risk violating human rights? What criteria does Deutsche Bank use to assess this risk?
- How does Deutsche Bank deal with the situation that the German Arms Export Control Act still allows arms exports that contribute to human rights violations (e.g. exports to Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia)?
- How does Deutsche Bank deal with the fact that NATO states also commit human rights violations (e.g. the invasion of Northern Syria by the Turkish military)?
- What sources does Deutsche Bank use to assess arms companies and analyse the risks of arms deals?
European arms companies not only produce for their own national defence and to support Ukraine, but also supply weapons to numerous despots and autocracies that commit human rights abuses.
Response from Deutsche Bank
In general, country risks are regularly considered and discussed in our risk management. When considering country risks, environmental and social issues as well as human rights are part of the assessment.
All transactions related to the defence sector are subject to a strict case-by-case analysis. In particular, it is ensured that there are no export restrictions/bans on the part of the governments of the European Union, the United Kingdom, the United States of America or Germany.
Transactions related to the defence sector are reviewed by a dedicated team for the sector. This includes an examination of the underlying goods, the end user and the destination country. If necessary, cases are escalated within the relevant bodies.
Response from Deutschen Bank (Question 4)
Transactions related to the defence sector are reviewed by a dedicated team for the sector. The members of this team are trained in obtaining information from freely available, open sources (open source intelligence analysis) and have, among other things, political science or military training.
The team regularly undergoes further training and works with a leading provider of information and analysis in the armaments sector.
 Groth, Julia (18.05.2023): Wie ich versuchte, an einem einzigen Tag an 27 Hauptversammlungen teilzunehmen. WirtschaftsWoche. Accessed on 19.05.2023: https://www.wiwo.de/finanzen/boerse/hauptversammlungs-marathon-wie-ich-versuchte-an-einem-einzigen-tag-an-27-hauptversammlungen-teilzunehmen/29157936.html
Source selection for backgrounds
Plastics: Facing Finance (2020): Einweg ohne Ausweg; FairFin (2021): The unbearable cost of single-use plastics; FairFin (2022): Who finances the plastic flood?
Gender: Deutsche Bank (2023): How we drive diversity and inclusion.
Greenwashing: European Commission (2023): Green claims; Planet Tracker (2023): Greenwashing Hydra; Changing Markets Foundation (2020): Talking Trash; Facing Finance (2020): Einweg ohne Ausweg; Facing Finance / urgewald (2023): Faire Fonds Info. Database.
Biodiversity: Share Action (2022): The Time in Now: Three ways the financial sector can take action to address biodiversity loss today.
Pharmacy: Robert Koch Institut (2022): Antibiotikaresistenzen, eine schleichende Pandemie; The Guardian (2016): Antibiotic waste is polluting India and China’s rivers; big pharma must act.