Purpose As reporting environmental, social and governance (ESG) information is not yet mandatory in all countries, it is intriguing to understand ESG's underlying driving mechanisms. This study aims to investigate ESG determinants in the banking sector of the Middle East and North Africa countries. Design/methodology/approach The authors gather data for 38 listed banks for the period 2011-2019. The data used is threefold as follows: data related to ESG; firm-level; and country-level data. While ESG and firm's level data are taken from Refinitiv, country-level data are extracted from the World Bank. Using panel regression, the authors test the effect of firm- and country-specific variables on the overall ESG score and its pillars. Findings Results indicate that banks' ESG scores are negatively affected by performance and positively affected by size. The level of economic development exerts a negative impact on the environmental pillar while the social development exerts a positive impact on ESG and governance pillar. Corruption is the only country-level that gathers a homogenous effect on ESG scores. Finally, the three pillars follow heterogeneous patterns. Originality/value This study extends the scope of previous studies by introducing new country-level independent variables to contribute to the understanding of ESG antecedents.