Human rights as important to insurers as anyone

The media has reported on complaints being taken to the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment (MBIE) by Canterbury earthquake pressure group WeCAN, suggesting human rights breaches of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) guidelines by “multi-national” insurers and other agencies involved in the Canterbury earthquake recovery.

IAG in New Zealand was approached by Insurance Business New Zealand for its view of the action (http://www.insurancebusinessonline.co.nz/news/insurer-responds-to-human-rights-breach-accusation-196357.aspx), and IAG’s corporate affairs head in New Zealand, Craig Dowling, has responded with the following perspective:

“Any allegations suggesting the failure to meet obligations set out under OECD guidelines are taken seriously by IAG, as they would be by any company that has high expectations of its own corporate behaviour.  As a result we have in place a process where we work collaboratively with the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment (MBIE) – New Zealand’s national contact point on the guidelines – to consider such complaints and to resolve them.  We approach this in a similar way to what we would do if the complaint came directly to us: this involves reviewing the substance of the complaint and addressing it with the customer, but in this case also working with MBIE as the designated contact point.

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“To elaborate on our view, we strongly support the nature and intent of all the OECD guidelines, including those pertaining to human rights.  While respecting WeCAN’s right to explore this avenue of complaint, we question the use of this course of action in relation to the circumstances as they have developed in Canterbury. The danger is that this action diverts resources and distracts from the positive work being done to progress the recovery programme and/or diminishes the purpose of having these important guidelines established by seeking to apply them to the complex set of circumstances that has transpired.

“This I say in the context where the health and welfare of impacted Cantabrians has been the primary motivator for most of us involved in the recovery from the earthquakes, guiding the very focus of our response which from the earliest stages was based on prioritising solutions for the most vulnerable customers based on principles endorsed by the Red Cross.

“We would be the first to admit we haven’t satisfied everyone’s expectations all of the time.  In many circumstances, often not acknowledged, this has been because our role in the recovery – of managing the insurance policy response to physical damage inflicted on homes, contents and cars – doesn’t always put us in a position to know the full range of challenges individuals are facing. Recognising this, we have taken important steps that go beyond the insurance policy response.  For example, within IAG’s Canterbury Recovery team we put in place the specialist role of Community Liaison Officer, employing people skilled in identifying signals of vulnerability and able to help connect individuals with social services who are better placed to help underlying issues that do not involve the insurance claim itself.

“Situations of stress and feelings of anger and frustrations still emerge in this environment – and we feel that as acutely as anyone.  Our own people have been through the earthquakes and are living and working though the rebuild, experiencing some of these feeling themselves.  We have invested in programmes to support them too.  These type of actions, which are mirrored by other organisations working in and for Canterbury, are hardly the actions of organisations that have set out to transgress an individual’s human rights.

“Without ever wanting to diminish an individual’s feeling of vulnerability, which I personally know is very real as I myself am from Christchurch and my family still live there, I would point out that the scale of the damage caused by the earthquakes was massive – and the number of complaints of this nature being reported to MBIE is relatively very small.  We recognise that WeCAN’s action to challenge insurers is another signal of the emotional toll caused by the earthquakes, however, and will therefore treat these complaints, as with all complaints, with the utmost respect and sensitivity.  Those feeling compelled to take this sort of action clearly need to be heard – and we will not only listen, but review and act as best we can.

“Where our efforts have not met expectations, as always we will review the circumstances and if errors have been made we will stand up and apologise for that.  And we will seek to put errors right and do better where we can, because it is the right thing to do.  Cynics will challenge this view.  And I acknowledge again that we don’t get it right all the time.  But that is IAG’s approach – and our commitment to our customers – whether complaints are attached to the OECD guidelines or not.”

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