On April 28th in Edinburgh, Scotland the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) held their Annual General Meeting where shareholders met to discuss the future of RBS. RBS was one of the UK banks bailed-out by the UK government in 2008, and now RBS is 83% owned by the UK public. Between 2007 and 2009, RBS led the underwriting of loans for tar sands mining in Canada at an amount of more than $7.5 billion. This translates into UK taxpayers and public money being used to finance operators in the Alberta tar sands. The money that RBS has contributed to this project clearly identifies them as complicit to the environmental and cultural annihilation of the lands, territories and rights of my people.
Over the past year and a half I have been working with the RAN targeting Tar Sands development and the banks that fund it here in Canada. Our Canadian campaign target has been the Royal Bank of Canada, the world’s largest financier of tar sands with over $18 billion in the tar sands. RAN has been demanding new policies be adopted and implemented by the Royal of Canada to ensure the environment, water and rights of my people are protected and that banks become transparent with their financing.
Over the course of the last six months there has been a growing movement in Europe and UK to take up the issue of Tar Sands by groups such as the newly formed UK Tar Sands Coalition, People & Planet, Platform, World Development Movement, Friends of the Earth France and Scotland, and Greenpeace UK. More recently some of these groups have begun targeting major tar sands financiers such as the Royal Bank of Scotland.
So, last week I traveled from Edmonton, Alberta Canada to attend the RBS AGM to bring Canada’s Indigenous peoples and environmental demands to the UK and voice my concerns surrounding RBS financing of Canada’s tar sands. I was privileged to have the opportunity to go inside the AGM along with Simon Chambers, documentary film maker working with Amnesty International and Indigenous communities impacted by Bauxite mining in India. We both had and opportunity to present our cases, mine of the tar sands mining in Canada and his of bauxite mining in India. I posed the following questions:
“How does RBS justify their billions of dollars in corporate loans and financing to operators in the tar sands, the world’s largest and most destructive industrial project, given the projects vast environmental and human rights abuses?”
“Would RBS consider moving towards policies that fully respect Indigenous communities rights to free, prior and informed consent with respect to the banks financing to ensure that communities lives and livelihoods don’t continue to be eroded and impacted by their financing?”
The response from Chairman Sir Philip Hampton was pretty standard. He denied the banks involvement in the tar sands stating “…our investments in the Tar Sands are so minimal that I don’t even know what they are.” and then he completely dodged the question of implementing new financing policies that respect Free, Prior and Informed Consent of Indigenous communities referring that I should be addressing the Canadian government not the bank. This was similar to responses from RBC at the beginning of our campaign here in Canada.
That evening I was invited to a Peoples AGM where we allowed the public to hear not only the cases of tar sands and bauxite mining, but to look at what viable alternatives existed in the renewable sector. The people also developed their own demands to present to RBS executives the following morning.
The next morning we met with the Chairman of the Board, Sir Philip Hampton, and three CSR representatives, in a building that I can only describe as a church to the money gods, to discuss the campaign, demands and concerns. The executives and Chairman reiterated time and time again that they have been given the task to ensure the bank continues to make profits in order to pay back the UK government. The words “profits before people” rang through my ears for a majority of the meeting. However, it’s undeniable the bank does not want to be associated with a campaign that will further tarnish their reputation. I stressed that all banks are in a state of reform and they should take our concerns and recommendations seriously as they have an opportunity to be a leader in the industry to adopt strong policies of Free, Prior and Informed Consent and leading the way forward in clean, renewable energy. RBS could not deny they have been under public scrutiny since being bailed out and tar sands financing is now the cherry on top. It’s clear the bank is worried. I just hope this will be the first of many conversations outlining how RBS can meet the demands of the people here in Canada.
In closing, now that the bank is 83% owned by the UK government you’d think we’d be seeing strong corporate and government leadership driving the bank and transforming them into a leader in the emerging green energy economy in the UK and a move towards a future that honours the land and the legacy of my ancestors. RBS should be adopting strong policies that respect free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous communities and ensures the protection of the environment and water not contributing to projects that tramples over them.
It’s time that ALL banks step up to the plate and adopt comprehensive policies that not only address but respect Indigenous communities right to free, prior and informed consent as outlined and identified within the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
I hope the UK will put its money where its mouth is by pulling RBS’s business out of the tar sands.