Banking on shaky ground
In April 2014, Oxfam Australia produced a report called “Banking on Shaky Ground: Australia's Big Four Banks and Land Grabs”.
The report reveals significant connections between Australia’s big four banks and allegations of land grabbing across the world. There is a summary below of the allegations for each of the banks.
Oxfam Australia called on the four banks to take their human rights and sustainability responsibilities seriously. It said that the banks’ lack of "due diligence policies towards land grabbing, and the allegations of bad practice in the report leaves ANZ, CBA, NAB and Westpac far behind the decisive response taken by other global companies to this issue."
Oxfam stated that the big four banks must swiftly adopt the following policies and practices to address their risk of involvement in land grabs in the agricultural commodities industry in emerging economies:
1. Know and Show their exposure to land risk
2. Commit to a Zero Tolerance for Land Grabs policy
3. Advocate for responsible financing
4. Ensure justice for affected communities
Westpac Bank has had a 19-year-old banking relationship with controversial logging company, “WTK Group”, in Papua New Guinea (PNG). The company had been caught up in the controversial Special Agricultural and Business Lease (SABL) debacle, in which almost 5 million hectares of land passed from communities into the hands of companies, largely logging companies, on the pretext of “agricultural development”.
The Commonwealth Bank of Australia
The bank owns shares to the value of $14.21 million in agribusiness company Bunge. Bunge owns a sugar mill operation in Brazil which it sources sugar cane from land which has been declared by the Brazilian Government as being subject to the process of return to its rightful Indigenous owners. Despite requests made by the Brazilian government, the company has yet to stop using sugar cane from the land, forcing the 60 families from the Jatayvary community to live on the borders of sugar plantations where they are exposed to pesticides and smoke from the burning of sugar cane straw, pollution of waterways and intense vehicle traffic that transports sugar cane.
ANZ Bank is financing Phnom Penh Sugar, a Cambodian sugar plantation that has been implicated in child labour, military backed land grabs, forced evictions and food shortages for local families. It has been reported that at least 1,000 families were evicted from their land to make way for the Phnom Penh Sugar plantation in Cambodia; with some given $100 to compensate for the loss of the land that had until then provided them with food and ongoing livelihoods. Many of these families say they were resettled on infertile land, making it impossible to farm enough food for their own families let alone to provide an income.
The NAB has lent more than $218 million to Singapore-listed Wilmar, the world’s leading processor and trader of palm oil. The first NAB loan to Wilmar occurred during 2010, when the World Bank Group had suspended lending to Wilmar and the entire palm oil industry, following a complaint regarding Wilmar’s operations. The subsequent 2013 NAB loan came after Newsweekhad ranked Wilmar as the least sustainable company in the world in terms of environmental performance for two years running — in 2011 and 2012. Yet the NAB, despite its stated commitment to environmental sustainability, has not made any public statements regarding the controversial palm oil industry, the issue of land grabs, nor its exposure to one of the industry’s leading players. Last year Wilmar took the enormous step of committing to a “No Deforestation, No Peat, No Exploitation Policy” which also addressed land grabbing in its supply chain. In doing so, they took a strong step, highlighting even further the silence and seeming lack of action on these issues from Wilmar’s own lender, the NAB.
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