Campaign groups demand bank divest from companies they say supply arms used for violence against Palestinians
HSBC faced protests at its annual general meeting on Friday from activists highlighting the bank’s investments in companies which supply Israel with weapons.
Campaign groups War on Want, the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign and Children international protested outside the shareholder event in Westminster, demanding that the UK’s largest lender divests from arms companies including Boeing, BAE Systems and Elbit Systems.
They say the defence companies have sold arms used for violence against Palestinians, including extrajudicial executions, attacks on unarmed protesters and house demolitions.
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According to War on Want’s research, HSBC holds £831m worth of shares in, and is involved in syndicated loans worth at least £19.3bn to, companies that sell weapons and military equipment to the Israeli government.
One of the companies HSBC holds shares in, Elbit Systems, produces cannons to fire cluster munitions which Israel ordered as recently as August 2017, according to Haaretz. Because of concern over the risks to civilians from cluster munitions, they are banned by an international treaty, signed by the UK, but not by Israel.
Ryvka Barnard, senior campaigner on militarism and security at War on Want, said: “HSBC holds millions of pounds worth of shares in companies like BAE Systems, Boeing, and Elbit Systems, whose weapons are used in Israeli military attacks on Palestinian civilians.
“As long as HSBC maintains business with companies arming Israel, its role in the oppression of Palestinians will continue to raise alarm and generate protest.”
In response to a question raised at Friday's AGM, HSBC chairman Mark Tucker said: “We strongly support the application of international human rights principles to business and we emphatically don't take positions on political issues.
"Since 2000… we have progressively withdrawn from the defence equipment sector and we do not provide financial services to customers who solely or primarily manufacturer or sell weapons."
The protest comes on the same day that campaigners hailed a victory against HSBC and its backing of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline between Canada and the US.
The bank said on Thursday that it will no longer provide project finance for new tar sands projects including the construction of any pipelines for the oil, which produces more greenhouse gas emissions than traditional fossil fuel sources.
HSBC also announced that it would stop providing financing for new coal-fired power plants as part of its efforts to support a transition to a low-carbon economy.
Paddy McCully, Rainforest Action Network climate and energy program director, described HSBC’s new policy as a “mixed bag”.
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“That Europe’s number one banker of tar sands is distancing itself from the sector is encouraging,” he said.
“HSBC’s prohibition on direct finance for tar sands mines and pipelines is the latest signal that the financial sector is gradually losing its appetite for these risky projects and provides further evidence that there is no long term future for tar sands oil.
However, he said the policy left a “loophole” which would allow HSBC to fund new coal-fired power already in pre-construction development in Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Vietnam.
The Independent has contacted HSBC, Boeing, BAE System and Elbit Systems for comment but none of the companies had responded at the time of publication.