New report reveals alarming investment practices by financial groups

Today, the financial watchdog Netwerk Vlaanderen NGO (B) launches the report ‘Bank Secrets’. The dossier details the investments by 121 financial groups in companies violating fundamental human rights. The investors channel money to 13 companies selling weapons to dictators, denying people access to land and clean water, co-operating with armed rebel groups and being involved in forced relocations and heavy and irreversible pollution.

International banks involved

121 banks from 24 different countries play a role in the financing of these companies, including banks based in Abu Dhabi, Australia, Belgium, Canada, China, DRC, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Kuwait, Malaysia, Mauritius, The Netherlands, Peru, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, Taiwan, the UK, the US and the multilateral World Bank.

Netwerk Vlaanderen reports that for the period 2003 – 2007, loans add up to a total of US$13 billion. Furthermore, during the period 2004-2007 banks have arranged and underwritten bond issues to a total value of US$ 28.4 billion. During the same period, the companies were assisted in issuing shares to a total value of US$ 14.8 billion.

Investors complicit to human right abuses

Although the human rights abuses are well documented, financiers keep on supporting the involved companies.

The lack of sustainability standards in their investments policies, allows them to channel money to companies like AviChina, which sells military material to China, Burma and Sudan.
Because of violations of human rights in these countries, the European Union decided on an arms embargo. By financing AviChina, investors undermine this embargo.

Other reported investments include the support to mining companies which systematically pollute the environment. The Australian company Emperor Mines, for example, exploits a gold and silver mine in an ecologically and culturally precious area in Papua New Guinea. Emperor Mines dumps monthly 14.000 tuns of toxic waste – containing lead, chromium, arsenic, cadmium, nickel and copper – in the local river. Thousands of people depend on the water for fishery and small scale agriculture. This does not stop several major international financial groups from backing the company financially.

These are just some examples of the practices detailed in the report ‘Bank Secrets’. The overall picture is staggering and continues to provoke fierce reactions from bank personnel and clients.

Bank personnel and clients react

In Belgium the report was launched in co-operation with the largest union in the financial sector. Stefaan Decock, spokesperson from the union LBC-NVK/CNE, states: “These kind of investments can no longer be tolerated. We think that financial institutions should take important environmental and human rights norms into consideration in their investment decisions. We continue to work for an ethical bottom line: no money for dictators, serious environmental destruction, controversial arms or violations of labour rights.”

“Investors should not wait until they are found legally responsible for the violations of human rights and serious environmental damage. They should make sure they don’t generate profit from such controversial practices. Financial institutions have a huge leverage power and can contribute to positive change.”, said Inez Louwagie from Netwerk Vlaanderen.

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