We are letting banks off the hook for financing environmental destruction - that must change

(The Independent, 23 Oct 2019) Proposals for a new 'duty of care' for British companies are welcome, but the lenders who are financing deforestation must also be in the spotlight.

Today's announcement by Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson that businesses would be given a legal “duty of care” on environmental and social issues and be required to conduct checks on their supply chains is a huge and exciting step forward. Many, like us at Global Witness, have been campaigning for years hoping for this change – that businesses who cause forest destruction or human rights abuses abroad are held to account and take responsibility.

As we all know from pictures of the Amazon burning this summer, precious rainforests are disappearing at a terrifying rate across the globe. Even before the Amazon fires hit the headlines, an area of primary rainforest the size of Belgium was destroyed in 2018. And consumers in this country may be surprised to learn that they could be linked to this devastation, through the supply chains linked back to the UK and with those they choose to bank with.

Last month, we released a new investigation, exposing how many of our best-known high street banks are financing companies well known for their destruction of the Amazon and other climate-critical tropical rainforests.

When we crunched the figures we were astonished to see that the UK was the biggest source of financing, after Brazil, for the six companies we looked at – providing a staggering £5bn from 2013-2019. Barclays, HSBC and Santander were found to be among high street names behind companies implicated in rainforest destruction.

This should ring an urgent alarm bell for the UK to get its own house in order when it comes to finance. These companies, with well documented records of environmental harm, were seemingly able to secure massive funds from UK financial institutions with few questions asked. Until our financial institutions are compelled to do otherwise, they will fail to give environmental concerns the importance they deserve.

External link

The Independent, 23 Oct 2019: We are letting banks off the hook for financing environmental destruction - that must change