bank groups invest in companies that abuse human rights
AXA, ING, Fortis, Dexia and KBC have invested more
than US$ 8 billion (more
than €6.6 billion) in companies that are involed in the violations of
human rights. That is the conclusion of research from Netwerk Vlaanderen, the
results of which are published today. The companies and projects that the banks
invest in have been criticised due to practices such as support for dictatorial
regimes, forced relocations of population, and forced labour.
The report from Netwerk Vlaanderen “Where
are the borders? Research into the financial links between five bank groups and
companies that abuse human rights”, reveals investments in fourteen controversial
companies and a number of
large-scale infrastructure projects. Netwerk Vlaanderen researched the official
investment policies of the banks, and puts this into contrast with the facts.
This research report forms part of the campaign “My Money. Clear Conscience?”. This campaign, run by Netwerk Vlaanderen, aims to
point out to banks where their social responsibility lies. My Money. Clear
Conscience? calls on the banks to end their controversial investments, and to
make public which companies are financied with the money of their clients.
Support for dictatorships
five researched banks invest a combined total of almost US$ 2.4 billion in shares of Total. Total currently has
investments in a gas pipeline in Burma, a land that it ruled with an iron fist
by a military junta. Total refuses to pay attention to the international call
for disinvestment. The company uses Burmese soldiers, known for their extreme
brutality, to clear and protect the route of the pipeline. This Total project
ensures a substantial income for the military rulers of the country. The
oppression of the local population is strengthened by the activities of Total.
Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the democratic opposition and winner of the
Nobel peace prize, has referred to Total as the greatest supporter of the
military dictatorship in Burma.
However, the Belgian banks that were the subject of this research appear
to have no problem with investing in this company.
of the rights of workers
five researched bank groups have invested a combined total of more than US$ 1.6 billion in Wal-Mart. This US distributon chain is
widely known for its continued breaches of basic workers’ rights.
Wal-Mart has been condemned for breaching the child labour laws in its warehouses. In the United States there are still dozens of cases pending against the company for 'union-busting'. The management registers, threatens and illegally fires trade union activists. Trade unions are not welcomed by Wal-Mart, and Wal-Mart has already been found guilty of ‘union busting’ on a number of occasions. Poor conditions are also routine in the subcontractors of Wal-Mart, which advertises itself using the slogan ‘Always Low Prices’.
Wal-Mart doesn't seem to take much notice of these criticisms. The
company has taken hardly any action to improve these terrible working conditions.
Wal-Mart continues to be far behind other companies in this respect. However,
the five researched banks believe that investing in Wal-Mart is perfectly
Human rights abuses related to infrastructure
KBC, Fortis, Dexia and ING are also heavily involed in large-scale
projects that have been linked to human rights abuses.One example of this is the
BTC pipeline, that runs through
Turkey, Azerbaijan and Georgia.
The project has been called into question because
of the support for undemocratic regimes, the fueling of regional conflicts, the violation of human rights, and environmental damage.
Many communities protested against these practices, but the protests were
heavily repressed in all three countries. The consultation with the effected
communities left a lot to be desired. Those making their criticisms of the
pipeline public were often the target of serious repression, arrest and
intimidation by the authorities. This is not surprising given the human rights
situation in each of the countries.
Despite these problems, banks including KBC, ING and Dexia see no problem in financing the BTC project. Multiple protests against their involvement in the BTC project have been ignored.
Towards a watertight human rights policy
examples given above are just a glimpse of the practices that are revelaed in
the Netwerk Vlaanderen report “Where are the borders?”. The following
conclusion can be drawn from the findings of the report: The polices of AXA,
Dexia, Fortis, ING and KBC offer no guarantees against investments in the
violation of human rights.
Netwerk Vlaanderen asks that the bank groups investigate and put an end
to their investments in companies that are accused of serious breaches of human
Savers and investrs cannot judge the human rights profile of their bank
group without clear information. Therefore, Netwerk Vlaanderen also demands that
the banks make their human rights policies public, along with a list of the
companies and governments in which they are investing.
complete report goes into much more detail regarding these challenges for the
bank world, and gives a number of concrete steps that can be taken to achieve a
more watertight human rights policy.
Press spokesperson: Inez Louwagie, +32 (0)2 201 07 70
and +32 (0)498 68 29 40, firstname.lastname@example.org
information about Netwerk Vlaanderen can be found at: www.netwerkvlaanderen.be
Netwerk Vlaanderen campaigns for a positive use of money, and
develops sustainable saving and investment products.
Vlaanderen is a member of BankTrack, an international movement for sustainability in the financial sector, www.banktrack.org