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Banks and animal exploitation

Banks in the UK are funding everything from factory farming to animal testing. 

So which banks are financing animal exploitation and how can you avoid them?

How are banks funding animal exploitation?

Banks are behind almost every industry in the world, through their loans, insurance and other kinds of financing. They fund companies involved in the exploitation and abuse of animals, such as industrial meat companies, factory farming, or pharmaceutical companies involved in animal testing.

Animal protection organisation Sinergia Animal says,

“If your bank doesn’t have a strong policy against shady practices such as animal testing and mutilations of animals in factory farms, they might actually be financing these activities!”

By providing funding to these companies, they are not only financing animal exploitation now, they are financing it well into the future.

For example, if a bank funds a company building new mega dairies, they help build the infrastructure for the factory farming of animals for many years to come. Banks therefore have the power to lock us into more exploitative, or fairer systems, depending on the choices they make.

Banks are also inadvertently shaping the world for animals through their approaches to the climate and nature. Since the Paris Agreement, the world’s 60 largest banks have provided USD $4.6 trillion in financing to the fossil fuel industry. As WWF says, climate change “has the potential to result in catastrophic species loss”, meaning that millions of animals could die.

Banks have also been linked to the destruction of specific habitats, such as the Amazon rainforest and the Congo basin.

Which banks are involved in animal exploitation?

Unfortunately, many UK banks have a notoriously poor track record when it comes to ethics. Many financial decisions are made without much (if any) consideration of social, animal or environmental criteria. Given the scale of animal exploitation around the world, this means lots of banks are likely to be funding the companies involved.

In our current accounts guide, over 60% of banks lost a half or whole mark in Animal Rights, Factory Farming and Animal Testing.

Likewise, a 2021 report by Shifting Values found,

“Almost half of the banks and investors evaluated have no policy to prevent the worst forms of animal cruelty when deciding on their loans and funding. Only one in ten banks obtained more than half of the total achievable score.”

Of the banks looked at in the Shifting Values report, Triodos was found to be the major exception.

Which banks are the worst for animal exploitation?

All five of the major high street UK banks – Barclays, HSBC, Santander, Lloyds and NatWest – lost marks under Animal Rights, Factory Farming and Animal Testing in our ratings. Barclays was found to fund the notorious meat producer JBS, which owns slaughterhouses and has been linked to serious deforestation of the Amazon.

Barclays, BlackRock (owns 10% of Janus Henderson), Citigroup (Citibank), HSBC, Lloyds Banking Group, NatWest Group and Banco Santander are all named in recent reports on factory farming and/or habitat destruction, which we discuss in more detail below.

The Lloyds Banking Group includes Lloyds, Halifax, Bank of Scotland, Birmingham Midshires, Scottish Widows, among others.

The Natwest Group includes Natwest, Royal Bank of Scotland, Ulster Bank, and Coutts among others.

Pigs in a crowded pen indoors

What animal exploitation are banks funding?

‘Butchering the Planet’, released in July 2020 by campaign group Feedback, highlighted some of the main companies responsible for funding ‘Big Livestock’. These companies are financing the issues resulting from industrial animal farming.

The report looked at the 35 largest meat and dairy corporations, their greenhouse gas emissions and their dodgy practices like chlorine washing chickens, as well as the financial institutions funding them. It found that:

“Between 2015 and 2020, global meat and dairy companies received over $478 billion in backing by over 2,500 investment firms, banks, and pension funds headquartered around the globe.”

Barclays, Citigroup, HSBC and Banco Santander were all named in Butchering the Planet. The report stated: “Barclays boast of backing UK farming, yet invest billions in destructive US agribusinesses. HSBC appear to be funding Brazilian beef linked to deforestation and forest fires, despite their own ethical investment policies forbidding them to do so.”

 

Banks for Animals, launched in 2021, looks at whether banks are taking steps to avoid funding “the worst forms of animal cruelty”. It assesses banks’ policies on issues such as cages, mutilations and slaughter across multiple sectors, from fashion to entertainment, conservation to farming.

For example, it checks whether banks have a policy not to fund companies involved in the fur trade, or to only fund companies using the least distressing and most pain-free practices. It looks at whether banks refuse to fund companies using cages and crates, or which are involved in painful mutilations such as teeth clipping, tail docking and dehorning.

The best scoring bank in the report was Triodos, which received a score of 95% for its policies. Of the institutions that feature in our guides, the following scores were received (high score being better):

  • Allianz - 24%
  • NatWest - 10%
  • Barclays - 7%
  • HSBC - 5%
  • Citigroup - 2%
  • Deutsche Bank - 0%
  • JPMorgan Chase (owner of Nutmeg) - 0%
  • Santander - 0%

 

Amazon Watch’s Complicity in Destruction report, published in April 2019, names the funders of Amazon deforestation. The report identifies the worst offending companies operating in the soya, beef, leather, timber and sugar industries, and the financial institutions which enable them. It said:

“The Amazon Rainforest sustains life on earth... While the Amazon’s health depends upon the stewardship of the nine countries that share this 5.5 million km2 biome, the role of global markets – from commodity traders to financiers to consumers – directly implicate us in its fate.”

Barclays, BlackRock (owns 10% of Janus Henderson), Citigroup (Citibank), HSBC, Lloyds Banking Group, NatWest Group and Banco Santander had all provided financing to implicated companies. The report found that Barclays, HSBC, and Santander were all funding beef companies involved in deforestation.

In September 2019, Global Witness published ‘Money to Burn’, also looking at the funding for companies involved in rainforest destruction.

It focused on the financing of six huge agribusinesses involved in palm oil, beef or rubber production and operating in the Amazon, the Congo Basin or New Guinea. Since 2013, many financial instructions had provided tens of billions of dollars to the implicated companies.

HSBC, Santander, BNP Paribas (owns 25% of Impax), Barclays, Royal Bank of Scotland, BlackRock (owns 10% of Janus Henderson), Deutsche Bank (owns 19% of ICICI), and Standard Life Aberdeen were among those having provided financing of over £10 million.

Deforestation fires burning in Amazon
Deforestation in the Amazon. Image credit: Greenpeace (Christian Braga)

What can consumers do about banks and animal exploitation?

1. Find out how your bank is doing

Our guides to Current Accounts, Savings Accounts and Small Business Accounts rate and rank over 35 companies on Animal Rights, Factory Farming and Animal Testing. Our rating looks at both their ethical policies and their actual investments, so you can find out what your bank is actually doing when it comes to animal exploitation.

You can find all our ethical money guides from the main money section.

2. Consider switching to a more ethical bank

Switching accounts is remarkably quick and easy. Within just seven days, all your money could be transferred to a company that will not exploit animals for profit.

If you set up an account with a new bank, it will usually ask you if you want to switch accounts from an existing one. It is then up to the bank to move all your money, direct debits and standing orders over, as well as closing your existing account. Any money paid into your old account should be automatically forwarded for the next three years.

3. Tell your bank why you’ve switched

Companies really care what consumers think, especially when it’s affecting their bottom line. If enough of us tell companies that funding the exploitation of animals is unacceptable, practice may eventually change.

If you are switching accounts for ethical reasons and want to write to your previous bank to let them know why, we have published a template letter for you to use.

How does Ethical Consumer rate banks in terms of animal rights?

When it comes to animal exploitation, we focus on two key areas:

1. Do they have any investments in companies Ethical Consumer has linked to abuses?

2. Have they been linked to animal exploitation by NGOs or in the news?

We consider both of these areas in terms of Animal Rights, Factory Farming and Animal Testing. For example, if a bank is invested in a company that conducts animal tests, it will lose half a mark under Animal Testing. If it’s been linked by an NGO to a multinational industrial meat producer, it will lose marks under Factory Farming and Animal Rights.

Our guides also highlight companies with the strongest ethical policies, including on animal rights, so you know which the better alternatives are.

Current accounts

Read our shopping guide to current accounts to find out how ethical your bank is, and which ones might be better to switch to.

Ethical Bank Accounts

Ethical savings accounts

Read our guide to savings accounts to find out which banks and building societies are more ethical.

Ethical savings accounts guide