Save Our Bank on the Co-op consultation
Campaigners urge bank customers to take survey
Shaun Fensom of the campaign group Save Our Bank on the Co-operative Bank's values and ethics consultation.
Save Our Bank supporters brought massive pressure on the Co-operative Bank not to use the values and ethics consultation as a way to water down the Ethical Policy. The bank told us they were listening and the wording of the survey shows that they were.
There are questions which indicate that the bank wants to extend its ethical policy into new areas, including how it treats customers, responsible banking practices and transparency. Given the scandals of the past years, we agree this is needed. But the existing positions are all still included as well.
In May we set out what we wanted. Here is what we got.
A clear message that the bank is not aiming to drop policies.
We told the bank we wanted “a commitment that the survey won’t mean that some rules get quietly dropped.”. They took that on board and in an article in the Guardian titled “The Co-op Bank made mistakes but we will never lose our ethics”, published on Sunday, the bank’s Chief Executive said, “Our aim is not to exit any existing areas but to add to them, update them and make our ethics more relevant to our customers.” This is just what we were asking for.
Questions on how the policy will be enforced.
We told the bank we wanted a commitment to independent monitoring and auditing of the policy to make sure it is stuck to, and suggested they report every three months on business turned away. The survey includes a series of questions on how to ensure the policy is carried out successfully, such as by having a dedicated Values and Ethics Committee, and putting ethics and values into the constitution of The Co-operative Bank (both of which we know are already in place), and questions on publishing details of the bank’s performance against its policy.
This could be better – there is no mention of reporting more often (so we would have to wait until late next year to find out what has happened this year) and there is no mention of making sure the policy is independently monitored. Without strong enforcement the policy is meaningless. We need to press further on these issues.
Questions on supporting positive businesses.
We asked for commitments to continued support for positive businesses like renewable energy projects, co-operatives, charities, credit unions and under-served financially excluded communities. All of these areas have stayed in the policy. The proof will be in the pudding – as far as we know, the bank is still planning to sell its renewable energy lending division – but the commitments to supporting renewables remain, which is good.
Keeping on with campaigning.
We asked the bank to show us that it’s ready to be brave and return to campaigning, including on new issues like loan sharks and rising inequality. There are plenty of questions about campaigning on a range of issues in the survey, as well as a question on “never lobbying for policy changes in private that we're not willing to campaign for in public”, which is the sort of position we’d like to see every company adopt.
Questions on pay for senior staff.
After the Co-op Group caused uproar with a huge pay package for its CEO (who then walked out), we were keen that the Co-op Bank didn’t go the same way. We wanted the bank to treat pay as an ethical issue and include it in the survey. They have done, and for the first time, with a question on “ensuring pay and rewards for senior executives at The Co-operative Bank are responsible and clearly linked to individual and company performance”.
This is not as strong as we would like – we want to see clear measures like a rejection of the culture of big bonuses in favour of alternatives like a flat percentage bonus for all staff. But we got what we asked for here.
What we didn't get
One or two of the statements in the bank’s survey seem to be weaker than they are in the previous policy (which is still in force). A statement on not financing “any government or business which fails to uphold basic human rights in its sphere of influence” seems to be missing entirely, replaced with broad statements on “supporting organisations that promote and protect human rights”. However, other commitments on human rights remain, like not financing oppressive governments or companies involved in selling arms to oppressive regimes. We hope the bank will keep this important commitment.
The policy on tax, introduced last time the bank consulted, has changed from avoiding companies “that take an irresponsible approach to the payment of tax in the least developed countries” to one on not banking “businesses that illegally avoid paying tax” in the UK and overseas. Given there are so many ways for multinationals to avoid paying tax legally, using tax havens and the like, the old position seems a lot stronger.
Ownership needs to be addressed
There’s one big topic that isn’t mentioned in the survey - ownership. The bank is now only 20% owned by The Co-op Group, with the rest owned by private investors and hedge funds. We want the bank to make a plan for becoming a real co-operative bank again, with ways for customers and staff to build a growing stake. This will be the focus of our campaign moving forward.
Fill in the survey!
Let’s make sure the bank gets a strong message from its customers that ethics matter, by making sure we fill in the survey, and share it so other customers do the same. You can complete the survey online, between the 12th and 30th of June.
Let’s make sure important issues like tackling climate change, protecting working standards and human rights are high on the agenda. And lets keep the pressure on for the bank to take the lead on fair pay as an ethical issue, and reject big bonuses in favour of alternatives such as a flat-rate staff profit share like John Lewis.
The final question on “other issues for the bank to consider when extending its ethical policy” gives an opportunity to raise some of these points. You might want to use our suggestion:
“Take the lead on fair pay as an ethical issue, and reject big bonuses in favour of alternatives such as a flat-rate staff profit share like John Lewis. Make a plan for becoming a proper co-op, with ways for customers and staff to build a growing stake.”
Find out more about the Save Our Bank campaign >
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