Finance and dignity – conference sheds light on complicated issue
(CS) Representatives from the financial sector in Luxembourg rubbed shoulders with academics and students at a conference on finance and human dignity hosted by the University of Luxembourg on Tuesday.
Dean of the Faculty of Law, Economics and Finance Stefan Braum welcomed guests saying that financial system appear to have become removed from the people – they have become “opaque” he said, and difficult to understand.
However, shouldn't finance be connected and working in the service of the people, Braum asked, allowing them to self-determine their lives.
To kick off a day of lectures and discussions, UN Chair in Human Rights Jean-Paul Lehners expanded on the idea of what dignity is, showing that philosophers far from agree on a single definition - with some saying it is a useless concept to other declaring it inherent to humanity - making it even harder to discuss what role the concept should play in the world of finance.
How do we measure dignity?
In everyday life we speak of “undiginified” working conditions, he said, adding that the concept of dignity is usually associated with ideas of honour, pride, self-respect and autonomy.
But how do we measure dignity? And what do we do when people who we feel are being treated in an undignified manner say that they don't feel discriminated?
How can law and philosophy be linked then to create a set of rules applicable to society as a whole, Lehners asked. And despite all the open questions, he concluded that the respect of dignity, while it may appear self-evident, needs to constantly championed and reflected.
However, finance, human rights and dignity are not only connected in larger contexts of business practices, such as conflict minerals, leading to misery or poverty in third world or emerging markets.
Austerity and human rights
As Mary Dowell-Jones of the University of Nottingham highlighted in her speech, the financial crisis has also struck closer to home. While its ripple effects may have caused lay-offs in China or economic trouble in Brazil, it has also hit people right at the heart of Europe.
From the UK, to Greece, Spain and Portugal – the welfare state is under threat as austerity measures are being implemented, she said, adding that a human rights discussion is necessary when talking about banks that are too big to fail, bailouts and saving the financial industry.
While there are guidelines about human rights in finance, such as the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, an ever-more complicated banking system with system problems appears to be whitewashing the issue.
Thus, while many big banks pride themselves on human rights statements, Dowell-Jones argued that behaviour of asset managers and bank staff needs to be scrutinised, as scandals have emerged during the financial crisis of banks selling customers false products, pushing them into bankruptcy.
There is still a “massive need to move forward” Dowell-Jones said, earning applause from the audience.
Speakers from the world of finance
Also on the programme of the one-day conference were speakers from the world of finance, including Laurence Pessez, Corporate Social Responsibility Director at BGL BNP Paribas in Paris, and Jean-Jacques Rommes CEO of ABBL taking to the podium to discuss protecting human rights in the financial sector, with Rommes bringing the debate to the hot topic of financial secrecy.
Find out more about the conference on uni.lu