News

Banks slated on arms sales

24 October 2008 - 1:00am

Ministers urged to regulate lenders.

NEWS HOOKS
Friday, 24 October 2008 - UN Disarmament Week begins
Monday, 27 October 2008 - Global week of action to ban cluster bombs starts

EMBARGO: 00.01 hrs BST, Friday 24 October 2008

New research today reveals that all of Britain’s main high street banks are using customers’ money to finance the weapons industry, including the sale of cluster bombs which kill and maim innocent civilians.

The report, launched by the anti-poverty charity War on Want as UN Disarmament Week starts, exposes for the first time how the lenders back the arms trade with billions of pounds from consumers’ savings and current accounts. War on Want says its evidence will increase public mistrust of banks, which has soared amid the current financial crisis.

The charity is calling on the British government to move towards regulation that would stop high street banks funding the arms trade. War on Want says banks are making a killing from a weapons industry which fuels conflict, poverty and human rights abuses around the world in countries such as Israel, Colombia, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The study is drawn from databases AMADEUS and ORBIS that until now have only been seen by the financial sector and a select number of academics. Both HSBC and Barclays invest in companies that produce cluster munitions and depleted uranium. In the last decade HSBC, Royal Bank of Scotland, Lloyds TSB and Barclays have provided loans to at least one producer of cluster munitions. According to HSBC's corporate social responsibility policy, the bank claims to "avoid certain types of business, such as financing weapons manufacture and sales".

Yet HSBC is main banker to UK arms firms BAE Systems and Meggitt, holds shares in the global weapons industry totalling £450.6 million and over the last 10 years has been part of 43 syndicated loans to the arms sector worth £27.1 billion. Each of the banks hold shares in all of Britain’s top arms firms, with Barclays’ holdings in the global arms sector worth £7.3 billion.

The Royal Bank of Scotland heads the lenders' funding of weapons companies, at £44.6 billion in the past decade. All five top lenders act as principal banker to at least two of the leading British arms manufacturers. Barclays and Royal Bank of Scotland are bankers to four of the biggest ten firms. Last year the UK topped the list of global arms exporters with a record £10 billion ($19 billion) in orders, more than any other country.

According to the UN, civilians represent nine in 10 people killed or wounded in armed conflict. Ruth Tanner, Director of Campaigns and Policy at War on Want, said: "People have seen the mess that the banks have made with customers' money. But few know they are using our cash to fund arms companies. The British government must introduce regulation to stop banks making a killing from the arms trade."


NOTES TO EDITORS

  • The report – Banking on Bloodshed: UK high street banks’ complicity in the arms trade – can be downloaded here.
  • Two people an hour are killed or injured by cluster munitions. One in four cluster munitions casualties are children. Cluster bombs have killed and injured tens of thousands of civilians in the last 40 years.

CONTACT: Paul Collins, War on Want media office (+44) (0)20 7549 0584 or (+44) (0)7983 550728

Bid to stop Iraq oil 'raid'

11 October 2008 - 1:00am

Protest targets Shell, BP, US

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Campaigners with a 12-foot puppet of American vice-president Dick Cheney will demonstrate in London today (Saturday, 11 October) against US and British pressure to hand control of Iraq’s oil to corporations including UK-based BP and Shell.

The protest takes place just two days before energy firms meet Iraq’s oil minister, Husayn al-Shahristani, in London to discuss contracts that opponents claim threaten to deepen conflict and poverty and extend the war and occupation for many years.

It also comes 100 days before Cheney and American president George Bush leave the White House in January 2009 as a coalition steps up its campaign to stop them pushing through a long-term oil privatisation agenda that most Iraqis oppose.

The protest has been organised by Hands Off Iraqi Oil, including the charity War on Want and the campaign group PLATFORM.

Ruth Tanner, campaigns and policy director at War on Want, said: “Iraq’s people need sovereignty over their resources to rebuild their country, which has been devastated by war and occupation. The proposed oil contracts would let UK corporations raid Iraq’s oil. Iraq’s oil should benefit Iraqis - not swell multinationals’ profits.”

Since 2005 the US and Britain have been demanding new legislation to privatise control over Iraq's oil. But, faced with strong opposition in Iraq led by the Iraqi oil workers' trade union, achievement of that objective has been consistently delayed. Iraq’s parliament needed to have approved the law. Now, according to Hands Off Iraqi Oil, as public resistance made that impossible, oil companies aim to sign contracts without legislation or any public scrutiny.

The coalition warns of greater conflict and hardship if the American and British governments succeed with pressure to drive through contracts that allow oil profits to be diverted to multinationals instead of helping millions of people hit by the US and UK war on Iraq and the occupation.

Pressure to pass the oil law was tied to the surge in US troops last year. Now the US is seeking an agreement with Iraq to extend their troop presence - which campaigners believe is in part intended to continue the pressure. Oil firms also hope for the security provided by US and British troops and private military and security companies.

Greg Muttitt, co-director of PLATFORM, said: "As long as the US and Britain demand control of Iraq's oil for their own companies, there can be no end to this war. Troops stay to pressure the Iraqis to hand over oil contracts, after which they would stay longer to protect the companies. This vicious circle of violence and greed must stop now. Iraqis want neither the occupation nor oil privatisation.”

Al-Shahristani’s talks will cover deals which would give control over Iraq’s oil to companies for a generation. Campaigners say the process by which the contracts have been drafted and could be signed, while Iraq is still occupied, has been untransparent, undemocratic and inflammatory. Iraqi civil society, including oil experts, oil workers and lawmakers, have not been allowed to see the contracts that could sign away their country's future independence with a pen's stroke.

Protestors will hold a rally outside Shell’s headquarters, with the Cheney puppet trying to grab a giant oil derrick from Iraqi oil workers. A samba band will lead the protest to BP’s offices, before campaigners end their demonstration outside the US embassy.

NOTE TO EDITORS: The marchers will move at 12.30 pm BST from Shell, demonstrate outside BP from 2.15 pm BST and protest from 3.00 pm BST outside the US embassy.

CONTACT: Paul Collins, War on Want media office (+44) (0)20 7549 0584 or (+44) (0)7983 550728

Mandelson charged with 'failure'

3 October 2008 - 1:00am

Former EU commissioner attacked on deregulation.

The anti-poverty charity War on Want expressed grave concern today at the appointment of former EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson as Britain's new business secretary.

The charity noted that the Global Europe strategy introduced by Mandelson during his time in Brussels had been based on the same deregulation of markets responsible for the current financial crisis, threatening jobs and livelihoods in Europe and across the developing world.

Mandelson had particularly championed the liberalisation of financial markets through the services negotiations at the World Trade Organisation, despite widespread recognition of the risks involved.

War on Want executive director John Hilary said: “Peter Mandelson has jeopardised the livelihoods of millions of working people through his reckless pursuit of deregulation. This is not the man we need to take over one of the UK's most important ministries at a time of such financial turmoil.”

Hilary continued: “Mandelson failed to deliver the trade justice agenda that he promised when taking on his post in Brussels. Instead he followed a dangerous path of market liberalisation which has exposed millions of people to unemployment and long-term poverty.”

During his time as EU trade commissioner Mandelson presided over the repeat collapse of WTO negotiations, which have failed to deliver the ‘development round' promised at their launch in Doha in 2001.

Mandelson's negotiations of economic partnership agreements with African, Caribbean and Pacific countries brought claims that he was overbearing and secretive, with mass protests in dozens of countries.

And Mandelson's launch of a new generation of bilateral trade deals with the countries of Asia and Latin America under his Global Europe strategy have met with widespread criticism for threatening the livelihoods of millions.

War on Want urged Mandelson's successor in Brussels, Baroness Ashton, to abandon the free market policies introduced by him and to work instead towards a future of trade justice for the world's poor.

CONTACT: Paul Collins, War on Want media officer (+44) (0)20 7549 0584 or (+44) (0)7983 550728

 

World failure on poverty 'unacceptable'

25 September 2008 - 1:00am

Brown pressed on UN summit.

NEWS HOOK: Thursday, 25 September 2008 – British premier Gordon Brown attends UN world poverty summit

War on Want executive director John Hilary available for interview

Over a billion people will continue to face desperate poverty and starvation in 2015 as a result of governments' failure to crack down on corporate abuses and eradicate global poverty.

This warning came today from global justice charity War on Want as British prime minister Gordon Brown joined other international leaders at the UN summit in New York on the anti-poverty Millennium Development Goals.

New World Bank figures show over 1.4 billion people live in extreme poverty in the developing world – 400 million more than previous estimates. With rising food and fuel prices adding to those numbers daily, even the most optimistic projections still predict over a billion people living in desperate want in 2015.

War on Want executive director John Hilary said: “The global poverty epidemic remains a scar on the conscience of the world. It is unacceptable for government leaders to continue with business as usual when one in four of the world's people are condemned to crushing poverty. All we have seen is tinkering around the edges, not the radical change needed to confront such a desperate situation.”

Hilary continued: “Governments seem to have bottomless pockets when it comes to saving banks from their own failings. Yet there is no such action to protect the poorest from the ravages of finance capital. Leaders at the UN summit should examine their consciences and put the needs of the poor before the interests of the banking elite.”

War on Want notes that the developing world loses £250 billion each year through business tax dodges alone – enough to reach the UN's anti-poverty targets several times over. Tax dodging and capital flight costs Africa an estimated £75 billion each year – five times what the continent receives in aid.

The charity urged Gordon Brown to take action against British tax havens – including Jersey, Guernsey, the Isle of Man, Cayman Islands and Bermuda – used by multinational corporations to rob poor countries of revenues which could finance essential public services such as health, education and clean water supply.

War on Want also pressed Mr Brown to drop his opposition to a stamp duty on sterling currency transactions, which could raise billions for anti-poverty programmes.

The charity attacked the premier for claiming that support for the summit from UK companies including mining giant Anglo American and Wal-Mart, including its British subsidiary Asda, can help achieve the development goals.

War on Want research has revealed that Anglo American operations abroad are fuelling conflict and human rights abuse in developing countries. And in addition to Wal-Mart's notorious anti-union practices, War on Want has found workers still paid less than half a living wage producing clothes for Asda in Bangladesh.

The charity says Britain must share the blame alongside other rich nations for these grim facts:

  • Around one in four children in developing countries are considered underweight and at risk of having their future blighted by malnourishment.
  • Some 2.5 billion people, almost half the developing world's population, lack decent sanitation.
  • More than one third of the growing urban population in developing countries live in slums.
  • Over 500,000 prospective mothers in developing countries die each year in childbirth or of complications from pregnancy.

CONTACT: Paul Collins, War on Want media officer (+44) (0)207 549 0584 or (+44) (0)7983 550728

Fears mount on mercenaries' 'abuse'

23 September 2008 - 1:00am

'Pact threatens bid for tough curbs'

The charity War on Want today expressed concern that the British government would use a new international agreement to avoid strict legal controls on UK private military and security companies, despite many cases of abuse.

Representatives from 17 states, including the UK and the US, agreed a document in talks organised by the Swiss government in Montreux together with the humanitarian organisation the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The document outlines rules and good practice on private military and security firms’ operations in armed conflict.

But War on Want says the accord lacks any binding status and only reaffirms current international law, which has so far brought no prosecutions after hundreds of examples of abuse by mercenaries.

The charity issued this warning in the run-up to next month’s first anniversary of the wounding of two Iraqi civilians by mercenaries with the British firm Erinys International who fired on a cab near Kirkuk.

It also came just over a year since mercenaries working for the US private military company Blackwater randomly shot at and killed 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad.

War on Want is calling for legislation, including a ban on private military and security companies’ use in combat and combat support.

Ruth Tanner, its campaigns and policy director, said: “This Montreux agreement must not be seen as a substitute to proper binding legislation on private military companies. There can be no more excuse for inaction. We call on the British government to start the process towards a new law as a matter of urgency.”

War on Want in July claimed that the UK government has mounted a political block against moves to regulate UK private military firms.

The charity announced that a government document acquired under freedom of information laws reveals ministers were close to launching pre-legislative consultation earlier this year. The government document listed issues for public consultation with parliamentarians, industry, non-governmental organisations and academics on proposals for a “twin-track regulatory system” for private military firms. The system would combine a register of authorised companies with contract licences.

This revelation followed a report by British MPs on the influential foreign affairs select committee that branded foreign secretary David Miliband’s failure to act “unacceptable”.

In a response to the Foreign Office’s annual human rights report, MPs expressed dismay that the government’s draft legislative programme for next year made no reference to private military and security firms. The committee urged the government to use the forthcoming Queen’s Speech to announce plans to introduce legislation. The MPs called for strict curbs on private security companies, with provision for firms to face prosecution in British courts for serious human rights abuse committed abroad.

CONTACT: Paul Collins, War on Want media officer (+44) (0)207 549 0584 or (+44) (0)7983 550728

NOTE TO EDITORS

In 2002 the UK government acknowledged the problems over private armies in a green paper which listed options for regulation. In its response to the paper later that year, the Commons foreign affairs committee recommended that “private companies be expressly prohibited from direct participation in armed combat operations, and that firearms should only be carried... by company employees for purposes of training or self-defence”. The committee also proposed that the government consider “a complete ban on recruitment for such activities of United Kingdom citizens by overseas-based or offshore PMCs”, while remaining activities be subject to licence. But since then the British government has failed to move towards regulation despite the United Nations, the British parliament and the industry itself calling on it to take decisive action.

Rio Tinto axe sparks divestment call

10 September 2008 - 1:00am

War on Want today urged ethical fund chiefs to review investment in British mining giant Rio Tinto after Norway excluded the multinational from its pension fund over controversial Indonesian operations.

Only 10 months ago the Norwegian finance ministry, with $13 million worth of shares in another UK mining corporation, Vedanta, dropped the firm from the fund over human rights violations and environmental abuse.

War on Want’s call followed the decision by Norway to sell off the £500 million stake held in Rio Tinto through its sovereign wealth fund because of problems concerning the company’s joint venture with Freeport McMoran.

The fund’s ethics council judged that Rio Tinto was directly connected with environmental contamination linked to operations at the Grasberg complex, the world’s biggest gold mine and the third largest for copper in West Papua.

War on Want, in its report Fanning the Flames last November, said Rio Tinto earned $122 million in 2006 from its Grasberg copper mine stake, amid local people suffering years of serious human rights and environmental abuse.

Norway has deemed other UK firms as too unethical, including arms maker BAE Systems and support services group Serco, which was removed from the fund last year due to its involvement in the UK's Atomic Weapons Establishment.

War on Want also questions Gordon Brown’s move to include Rio Tinto in a business anti-poverty coalition with other firms the charity has cited for dubious records, such as mining giant Anglo American, Wal-Mart and Coca-Cola.

These companies signed a declaration which will go to the UN Millennium Development Goals summit this month.

Ruth Tanner, Campaigns and Policy Director at War on Want, said: "After Norway’s decision to exclude Vedanta from its pension fund, we welcome the government’s move to eject Rio Tinto for similar reasons. The Norwegian government has again put its money where its mouth is to ensure a real ethical investment policy. More and more funds are withdrawing investment in notorious mining corporations. Now other funds should follow Norway’s example. It also underlines the need for the UK government to make all British firms accountable for their operations abroad."

NOTES TO EDITORS

* War on Want’s report Fanning the Flames can be downloaded here.
* The charity’s film on Anglo American profiting from abuse in Colombia can be viewed by clicking here.
* The Business Call to Action signatories can be seen here.

CONTACT: Paul Collins, War on Want media office (+44) (0)20 7549 0584 or (+44) (0)7983 550728

Trade talks collapse 'welcome'

30 July 2008 - 1:54pm

The collapse of the World Trade Organisation negotiations in Geneva today lifts the threat of millions more people facing hunger and poverty as a result of trade liberalisation, the charity War on Want said today.

Trade ministers had gathered for marathon talks aimed at concluding the seven-year negotiations.

John Hilary, executive director of the anti-poverty charity, said: "We welcome the collapse of the trade talks. The deal on the table threatened disaster for millions as a result of forcing open developing countries' markets. Now the WTO must seize this opportunity to rethink its approach. Trade must serve the interests of the majority of the world's people, not just big business."

At the G8 last month Gordon Brown claimed that a deal could help to solve the global food crisis, but War on Want believes that the deal on offer would have made global food, financial and environmental crises worse.

Hilary continued: "rather than trying to revive these failed negotiations, Brown must join with other European leaders in crafting a new EU trade policy. Europe?s relations with the wider world must be based on principles of trade justice, not the self-interest of European exporters."

The failure was due mainly to the US refusal to accept safeguards for farmers and workers in developing countries. The US and EU also refused to offer any meaningful cuts in the subsidies given to their own farmers, which lead to the dumping of agricultural produce on developing country markets and the destruction of rural economies.

These disagreements have led to two previous collapses and are symptomatic of the aggressive tactics of the US and EU throughout the talks, said War on Want.

War on Want points to existing evidence that forcing open developing countries? markets even more in the interests of Western corporations, would further increase poverty and inequality.

Developing countries that were supposed to benefit from a deal have been almost totally excluded from decisions. Any future talks must be conducted on the basis of genuine transparency and democracy, said War on Want.


For comment and further details, phone War on Want trade campaign officer David Tucker on +44 (0)7906 756863 or +44 (0)20 7549 0587

Storm grows over mercenaries 'abuse'

30 July 2008 - 11:24am

Miliband challenged on action delay.

British foreign secretary David Miliband today faces claims that the government is mounting a political block against moves to regulate UK private military companies amid reports of human rights abuse in Iraq.

This accusation comes from War on Want, which announced that a government document acquired under freedom of information laws reveals ministers went close to launching pre-legislative consultation earlier this year.

In a letter to Miliband, the charity has expressed concern that a political block delayed steps towards regulation.

The government document listed issues for public consultation with parliamentarians, industry, non-governmental organisations and academics on proposals for a "twin-track regulatory system" for private military firms. The system would combine a register of authorised companies with contract licences.

This revelation follows a new report by British MPs on the influential foreign affairs select committee that brands Miliband's failure to act "unacceptable".

In a response to the Foreign Office's annual human rights report, MPs expressed dismay that the government's draft legislative programme for next year made no reference to private security firms. The committee called on the government to use the forthcoming Queen?s Speech to announce plans to introduce legislation.

The MPs called for strict curbs on private security companies, with provision for firms to face prosecution in British courts for serious human rights abuse committed abroad.

War on Want is calling for legislation, including a ban on mercenaries' use in combat, and cites hundreds of incidents which have involved guards from US and UK companies in human rights abuse.

Ruth Tanner, senior campaigns officer at War on Want, said: "We are extremely concerned that the government has blocked moves towards regulation. We welcome the foreign affairs committee's call for action on private military companies. It is high time to get tough on firms making a killing in Iraq."

Last month a Panorama film on BBC television featured the incident last October in Iraq when mercenaries working for the British private security group Erinys International opened fire on a cab near Kirkuk. In the same month as the Erinys incident, mercenaries from the Australian company Unity Resources Group killed two Iraqi women. In September mercenaries from the American private military company Blackwater killed 17 Iraqi civilians. And in November an Iraqi taxi driver was shot dead by mercenaries with DynCorp International, hired to protect US diplomats.

In 2002 the UK government acknowledged the problems over private armies in a green paper which listed options for regulation. In its response to the paper later that year, the Commons foreign affairs committee recommended that "private companies be expressly prohibited from direct participation in armed combat operations, and that firearms should only be carried... by company employees for purposes of training or self-defence". The committee also proposed that the government consider "a complete ban on recruitment for such activities of United Kingdom citizens by overseas-based or offshore PMCs", while remaining activities be subject to licence.

But since then the British government has failed to move towards regulation despite the United Nations, the British parliament and the industry itself calling on it to take decisive action.


CONTACT: Paul Collins, War on Want media officer (+44) (0)7983 550728

Trade deal 'disaster for poor'

28 July 2008 - 10:20am

Millions face hardship from proposal

Millions more people face hunger and poverty as a result of the deal proposed this evening at the World Trade Organisation talks in Geneva, the charity War on Want warns.

John Hilary, executive director of the anti-poverty charity, said: "The WTO has manufactured this deal by excluding more and more of members from the negotiations. Stitching together an agreement between seven states while shutting out all others exposes the lack of legitimacy at the heart of the world trade talks. The deal threatens disaster for millions as developing country markets are forced open in the interest of corporate profits. Governments must reject the proposal rather than deliver such a bleak outcome for the world's poor."

Delegates at the world trade talks have been asked to consult with their capitals on a proposed settlement which will allow developed countries to get away with minimal cuts to their farm subsidies, while at the same time opening up developing country markets to both agricultural and industrial imports, according to War on Want.

Under the proposed settlement seen by the charity, the US will be asked to cap its trade-distorting agricultural subsidies at $14.5 billion, twice what it currently pays its farmers. Yet developing countries will be required to undertake real cuts in their industrial tariffs, and will be restricted in the protection they can afford their own farmers.

Several countries have protested against being excluded from the negotiations, which have been held behind closed doors between an ever decreasing circle of invited delegations.

Representatives will reconvene tomorrow at the WTO to continue the talks, while the EU's Council of Ministers is also set to discuss the proposal on Saturday.


CONTACTS For comment and further details, phone War on Want media officer Paul Collins on +44 (0)7983 550728 or John Hilary on +44 (0)7983 550727.

Trade summit 'threatens millions with poverty'

18 July 2008 - 11:57am

WTO attacked over democracy, hunger claims. Ministers arrive in Geneva to prepare for crunch talks on global trade

The World Trade Organisation's last-minute push for a global trade deal threatens to throw millions more people into hunger and poverty in developing countries, the charity War on Want warns today. The warning comes as ministers gather at the WTO in Geneva in their final effort to clinch an agreement to end the controversial Doha Round of trade talks launched seven years ago.

G8 leaders, including British prime minister Gordon Brown, claimed earlier this month that a WTO trade deal could help solve the crisis sparked by soaring food prices, which has seen riots in over 30 developing countries. But, according to War on Want, forcing open the markets of such countries still further will deepen the crisis by handing greater control to multinational corporations which put their own profits before people's needs.

John Hilary, Executive Director of War on Want, said: "Developing countries are still being pressed to open up their markets, despite the risks involved, while rich countries fail to address their own farm subsidies. If the deal on the table goes through, millions of the world?s most vulnerable people stand to lose their jobs and fall into poverty. Ministers should abandon the talks before they cause long-term damage to the prospects of the world's poor."

War on Want points to the 100 million additional people left hungry by the food crisis in the first quarter of this year, bringing the world's total to one billion. It cites massive earnings in the same period for the world's largest agribusiness corporations, which are cashing in on the crisis: Grain giant Cargill, one of the USA's largest private firms, recorded $1.03 billion net earnings, up 86 per cent, in the three months to end February this year. US grain company Archer Daniels Midland reaped $913 million operating profit in the quarter to end March 2008, 54 per cent higher than for the same period last year. And agribusiness corporation Bunge International made $867 million gross profit, a rise of 189 per cent.

War on Want also criticises WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy for preventing participation by the broad base of developing countries in the trade talks. Under its own rules, the 152-member organisation was supposed to hold a full ministerial conference by the end of 2007, within two years of the 2005 ministerial held in Hong Kong. Instead, War on Want says that Lamy is pressing ahead with an anti-democratic summit involving just over 30 ministers in closed 'green room' sessions. Other ministers may still come to Geneva, according to the charity, but they will not be invited to take part in the key negotiations.


NOTES TO EDITORS:

  1. The invitation-only 'green room' sessions are due to start at the WTO on Monday, 21 July 2008. But Pascal Lamy has called for trade ministers to arrive in Geneva from 18 July for bilateral talks.
  2. EU ministers will also be meeting to prepare for the trade summit in Brussels from 18 July.

CONTACT: Paul Collins, War on Want media officer (+44) (0)20 7549 0584 or (+44) (0)7983 550728

 

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