Pressure Groups target the Private Banks Behind Corporate Misdeeds

Davos, 27.01.2003 - Over one hundred international advocacy groups and other non-governmental organizations today released a public statement calling big banks and investors to task for their responsibility for the environmentally and socially harmful impacts of their activities.


Up until now, the financial sector has been spared widespread criticism by proponents of environmental sustainability and social justice, who have instead focused on multinational corporations and major international finance institutions like the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization.

“Flying the below the public’s radar screen, private banks and investors have been helping underwrite some of the world’s most environmentally destructive projects, such as the Three Gorges Dam in China,” said Michelle Chan-Fishel of Friends of the Earth (US), which has member groups in 70 countries. “But as more people know about this, the public will increasingly hold financiers responsible through tried and true tools such as exercising consumer choice, engaging in shareholder activism, and pressuring politicians to reform government regulations.”

The Collevecchio Declaration on Financial Institutions outlines the unique role and responsibility the financial sector has in advancing sustainability. The declaration brings to light their part in backing egregious projects and exacerbating the developing country debt crisis. It also criticizes big banks and investors for pressuring companies to put profits before people, and for their active promotion of international economic policies that do the same.

“Big banks are trying to undermine what little progress may be made in providing developing countries with debt relief,” added Andreas Missbach of the Berne Declaration, referring to current discussions in the International Monetary Fund over a Sovereign Debt Restructuring Mechanism. “People in Argentina and around the world are starving, and banks are attempting to keep countries trapped in a deadly cycle of debt.”

The Declaration outlines six principles that financial institutions should embrace: a commitment to sustainability, to “do no harm,” to responsibility, to accountability, to transparency and to sustainable markets and governance. An accompanying Implementation Document outlines immediate steps financial institutions can take, such as adoption of internationally-recognized industry standards for credit, investing and underwriting transactions.

“We expect all banks and investors to adopt and implement standards for transactions such as large dams and investments in high conservation value forests,” said Jules Peck of WWF- United Kingdom. “Such standards will ensure that financial institutions are not investing in projects that would be unsustainable in both financial and ecological terms.”

Drafted in Collevecchio, Italy, by a group of international activists that campaign on banks such as ABN-Amro, Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, Union Bank of Switzerland, Credit Suisse, West LB, Barclays, and Citigroup, the Collevecchio Declaration is a call to action. Not only should private banks and investors finance enterprises that promote social equity and restore the environment, but they should also support regulation that would better enable the financial sector to promote sustainability. The Declaration is being released at the Public Eye on Davos, a public conference held in parallel to the World Economic Forum (WEF).

“While bankers in the WEF are talking about how to restore public confidence by high-jacking terms such as ‘ethics’ and ‘trust,’ they should instead focus on the underlying causes of public mistrust,” said Antonio Tricarico of the Campaign to Reform the World Bank. “Financial institutions should view the Collevecchio Declaration as the basis for the beginning of a credible and open debate with all stakeholders and civil society on financing sustainability.”