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BC union shareholder proposal prompts RBC to confirm screening of U.S. private prison industry & commit to greater human rights disclosure and engagement - BCGEU

(Burnaby, BC)Following a shareholder proposal by the B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union (BCGEU), Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) has confirmed that it will not provide lending or financing services to companies including GEO Group (NYSE: GEO) and Core Civic (NYSE: CXW). These U.S. private prison companies operate the majority of U.S. detention facilities currently detaining migrant families and children.

Following productive negotiations and in exchange for withdrawing the shareholder proposal, RBC has also agreed to: 

  • Confirm in its shareholder meeting circular that RBC does not do business with the private prison industry in the U.S. 
  • Develop and publish a human rights position informed primarily by the requirements of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights by October 31, 2020
  • Commit to improving stakeholder engagement on human rights matters

"Shareholder advocacy is a major priority for the BCGEU-we invest our members' dues to grow our union and we make sure to leverage those investments to demand action from companies on the issues that matter to our members and all working people," says Stephanie Smith, BCGEU President. "Private prison companies have been at the centre of the appalling human rights crisis at the U.S. border, and as investors, we had the power to take action. And that action has delivered fantastic results: Not only has RBC committed not do business with U.S. private prison companies, they've also committed to greater human rights disclosure and engagement."

The detention of undocumented immigrants and asylum-seekers, especially the separation of minor children from their parents entering the U.S. outside of ports of entry, has spurred global criticism. Reports detail inhumane conditions in detention centers with children sleeping on cement floors and suffering from hunger, inadequate health care, and abuse. There have been numerous deaths inside these facilities. 

Through its general fund and defence fund investments, the BCGEU is a shareholder in Royal Bank of Canada and, as such, is entitled to file proposals for consideration at the bank's 2020 Annual General Meeting of Shareholders. 

"RBC's decision is proof that doing the right thing for human rights is also good for the bottom line," said Smith. "We couldn't be happier with this outcome but that doesn't mean we're finished. We applaud RBC's leadership on this issue, and we will be monitoring progress closely while we decide what issues to tackle next."

This week, BCGEU will send letters to Canada's largest banks asking them to assess the risks of doing business with U.S. private prison companies and to publicly announce the results of those assessments.

Over the past three years, the BCGEU's push for human rights and labour rights reforms in the companies in which they invest has established the union as a leader in Canada. Recently, the union has filed proposals calling for policies on greenhouse gas emissions, supply chain transparency, enhanced corporate governance and human rights policies, among others.

RBC's AGM will take place on April 8, 2020 in Toronto.

Read the excerpt from RBC's management circular here.