activism business corporate responsibility human rights

Is your bank financing the arms industry?

If you bank with Barclays, Lloyds TSB, Halifax, HSBC, or Royal Bank of Scotland, then the answer is yes.

The UK is the world’s second largest exporter of arms, after the US. British arms companies exported £53 billion worth of weaponry in the past five years, to countries including Saudi Arabia, Colombia, and Israel.

Like any other business, arms manufacturers need investment money for new initiatives, use banking services, and issue shares. The high street banks are involved at every level, making capital available, and holding shares in the arms trade. Barclays is known to have a portfolio of arms shares worth £7.3 billion.

Unlike other businesses, the arms trade profits directly out of conflict. War may create opportunities for other businesses, but only the arms trade relies entirely on war or the threat of war for its profitability. The Iraq conflict has been bankrolling them for years. When an African dictator ignores his constituents’ right to education and healthcare and decides to buy a fleet of helicopters, the arms traders are the only winners. When Israel raids Gaza again, they win again – the government authorised £27 million worth of weapons exports to Israel last year.

To a bank, it probably makes a lot of sense to invest in weapons. It’s a bit like Unilever owning both Ben and Jerry’s and Slimfast – their cash registers will ring whichever way you go. It’s covering your bases. If a bank has investments in Israel that are going to be jeopardised by a renewed bout of tension, they can make up for it through rising demand for arms. In some ways, that’s pretty smart. It’s also utterly immoral.

Conflict is one of the key obstacles to development. 73% of the world’s billion poorest people live in countries at war or recovering from war. As well as the deaths and casualties, war devastates infrastructure, interrupts education, drives people off their land, and leaves a legacy of environmental damage. Nobody should profit from war.

Here’s the thing: when your bank  invests in arms companies, it’s not their money that they are lending to BAE Systems. It’s yours. It’s your wages and savings, put out to gather interest. If that’s unacceptable to you, it’s your money and you can move it where you like. Switch to an ethical bank and tell your old bank why you dropped them. (And don’t take your bank’s word for it: HSBC have pumped £27.1 billion into the arms trade in the past decade, despite promising in 2000 that they would “avoid certain types of business, such as financing weapons manufacture and sales”.)

When the banks failed last year, the government had to step in to shore them up. That means the taxpayer, ie you and I, now own a considerable slice of several of the banks. Let your MP know that the UK cannot condemn countries who oppress their own citizens or threaten other countries, and sell them weapons at the same time. To avoid any hypocrisy, any bank in which the government has a stake should stop investing in the arms trade. War on Want have a letter to Business Secretary Peter Mandelson that you can download and send here.

To make the point visually, here’s a map of the world showing arms exports.

The US, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and a few others make serious money out of war. More to the point, they make money out of these people – here’s a map of war deaths for 2002.

To find out more,

  • download the campaign leaflet ‘Blood Banks‘ from War on Want. It includes a tear-off letter to Peter Mandelson to remind him that Lloyds TSB, RBS and Halifax are ours now, and that we don’t want them profiting out of war.
  • Switch to an ethical bank, and write and inform your old bank of the reasons for the move.

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