Eye on the Amazon

Banks Are Budging!

Pushing big finance on climate in the year to come

Photo credit: Iván Castaneira

The decision of these banks to stop financing trade of Amazon crude from our territories is a major milestone in our effort to protect our lands, our lives, and our cultures. For too long, the oil industry has wreaked havoc on our peoples, violated our rights, felled our forests, taken our territories, and created climate chaos, which is leading to the collapse of the Amazon.Marlon Vargas, President of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon (CONFENIAE)

We are only a few weeks into 2021 and today we've announced the inspiring news that European banks BNP Paribas Group, Credit Suisse, Rabobank, and ING – collectively responsible for financing the trade of over $5.5 billion in Amazon oil to the U.S. from 2009 to 2020 – have committed to immediate exclusion measures on the trading of oil from the Amazon Sacred Headwaters of Ecuador! BNP Paribas, Credit Suisse, and ING are expected to roll out binding policies in the coming months, while Rabobank says it stopped financing Amazon oil trading in early 2020 but has made no public announcement. These commitments come in response to the August 2020 report by Stand.earth and Amazon Watch that exposed how European banks financed the trade of $10 billion USD of oil from the Amazon Sacred Headwaters region to the U.S. This is the first time global commercial banks have adopted policies that exclude finance for extractive activities in the Amazon rainforest. It's both an encouraging sign of things to come and a great motivator to ramp up the pressure – now!

Our first targets in this work to pressure important decision-makers are the financial regulatory agency nominees of the new Biden administration. Wall Street firms like JPMorgan Chase, BlackRock, and Citigroup – as evidenced in the recently published joint report Complicity in Destruction III by the Association of Brazil's Indigenous Peoples (APIB) and Amazon Watch – are some of the largest U.S.-based financial backers of the corporations driving climate chaos in the Brazilian Amazon and around the world. In coordinating the Policy Working Group of the Stop the Money Pipeline Coalition (an international coalition of environmental and frontline community groups calling for an end to the financing of climate destruction), Amazon Watch and other ally organizations are calling on President Biden to use existing regulatory powers to ensure that these firms are on a clear path to limit their financing of fossil fuel and deforestation commodities in time for the crucial U.N. climate conference in Glasgow in November 2021.

Our movement is demanding that leaders at agencies and departments like the Federal Reserve and Treasury evaluate and act upon not just the risks of climate change to the financial industry, but also the climate risks financial firms are creating with continued investments in climate-harming industries. The financial industry must heed the environmental justice movement's calls to invest instead in a clean, renewable economy that centers the rights and safety of BIPOC communities.

Recent victories have emboldened our efforts aimed at climate change profiteers like BlackRock, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Vanguard, Bank of America, and Dimensional Fund Advisors. These companies were exposed in our recent report Complicity in Destruction III as the six U.S.-based financial firms most heavily invested in companies with ties to Indigenous rights violations, land grabs, and deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. Amazon Watch will escalate the pressure on several of these targets by harnessing the power and influence of their clients to demand that they adopt binding policies that respect Indigenous peoples' rights and cut deforestation out of the supply chains of the companies they invest in.

Supporters of Amazon Watch – especially those who are also clients of one of these six firms – can play an important role in our campaign to hold them accountable for keeping the Amazon safe.
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In addition to coordinating client pressure on these six targets, Amazon Watch and APIB will continue to keep the pressure on BlackRock's executive leadership. In January 2020, BlackRock CEO Larry Fink published his annual letter to the finance sector, in which he vowed that his company – which is the largest asset manager in the world – would be making some major changes to center sustainability in its investments. A year has passed since then, and although BlackRock has taken some steps to address its role in financing the climate crisis, it is still woefully lacking any policy that explicitly centers the protection of Indigenous peoples' rights in its investments, and it has failed to make other necessary changes for climate action.

In anticipation of Fink's upcoming announcement, APIB Executive Coordinator and Indigenous rights leader Sonia Guajajara published an open letter to BlackRock earlier this month, calling on the finance giant to respond to concerns about its investments in companies that are violating Indigenous rights and destroying the Amazon and demanding that the firm develop a binding policy to prevent deforestation and rights violations in its investments.

Of course, BlackRock's investments don't just harm communities in the Amazon; they harm communities all over the world. For that reason, Amazon Watch and a global network of activists in the BlackRock's Big Problem campaign will watch carefully to see how BlackRock and other major asset managers like Vanguard and State Street vote during the upcoming annual shareholder's meetings of spring 2021, when a series of critical resolutions related to deforestation are expected to be introduced at companies in which these influential asset managers invest.

And that brings us to the banks. Remember, asset managers aren't the only financial actors fueling the climate crisis. Banks play a big role in Amazon destruction as well. In August, Amazon Watch published a joint report with Stand.earth that exposed the hypocrisy of 19 European banks financing the trade of Amazon crude oil to the United States. Many of these banks had made prior commitments to protect endangered wildlife and respect the autonomy of Indigenous peoples in their financing agreements, but much of the oil trade that they finance is extracted from areas on or near Indigenous peoples' territories and routinely endangers the health and natural environment of local communities. This “naming and shaming” produced results.

Amazon Watch and Stand.earth have been in close communication with several of the top banks profiled in the report, pushing for behavior changes and public commitments to stop financing oil trading from the Amazon. The recent news from European banking giants BNP Paribas Group, Credit Suisse, and ING to immediately restrict the trade finance of oil from the Amazon Sacred Headwaters of Ecuador is a major win for our movement, and shows that our strategy of directly engaging these institutions in dialogue is a winning one.

Keeping the pressure on is critical. That's why Amazon Watch will release an updated scorecard with Stand.earth in the second quarter of 2021 that examines the ways that the European banks highlighted in our joint report, as well as the U.S.-based financial firms highlighted in our March 2020 report Investing in Amazon Crude, are either succeeding or failing to live up to their own climate and sustainability commitments.

The good news is that 2021 is starting off strong with great indicators that we will continue to move the needle forward in our efforts to push the world's largest financial institutions to truly center Indigenous rights and environmental justice in their investments.

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