The Equator Principles (EPs) are a voluntary and self-regulatory Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiative in the field of project finance. The EPs provide a number of principles to businesses to reduce the negative impacts of lending practices linked to environment-damaging projects. The paper argues that the actual impact of the EPs even now as revised version is still limited. This is due to their voluntary nature and their lack of adequate governance mechanisms, that is, enforcement, monitoring and sanctioning. With the help of RepRisk, which provides a database capturing third-party criticism as well as a company’s or project’s exposure to controversial socio-environmental issues, the paper evaluates the on-the-ground performances of the two ‘Equator banks’ Barclays and JPMorgan Chase and compares their performance with the one of the two non-Equator banks Deutsche Bank and UBS. The paper shows that the EPs do not have a substantial influence on the broader CSR-performance of multinational banks due to the EPs’ limited scope – focusing mainly on project finance – and the (still) existing various loopholes, grey areas and discretionary leeway. The paper also gives an overview of the main institutional shortcomings of the EPs and their association and discusses some potential reform steps which should be taken to further strengthen and ‘harden’ this ‘soft law’ EP-framework. The paper thus argues in favor of (more) mandatory and legally binding rules and standards at the transnational level to overcome the EPs’ ‘voluntariness bias’.

Full paper available via Normative Orders, Goethe University Frankfurt