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Banks slated on arms sales

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
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Tags: banking | campaigns | corporations & conflict


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