Last month was Move Your Money month, marking the start of a campaign for ethical banking. This encouraged individuals to switch their accounts from high street banks, including Barclays, Lloyds and RBS, to more ethical alternatives such as credit unions, building societies and ethical banks like the Co-operative.
Since the financial crisis there has been widespread criticism across the political spectrum for the banks’ irresponsible behaviour. Yet instead of showing remorse, they have continued excessive pay and bonuses, tax avoidance and covert lobbying: Barclays spent $2,480,000 on lobbying in 2011 alone.
While small businesses and families have struggled to acquire credit, banks continue to fund arms companies, oppressive regimes and environmentally destructive industries. Although in state ownership, RBS has continued to invest in the Canadian tar sands, one of the largest emitters of carbon dioxide on earth. Lloyds holds shares in the mining company Vedanta, which has been heavily criticised for its bauxite mining operations on the sacred tribal lands of indigenous groups in Orissa, India. Then there is Barclays, who invest in numerous arms companies, including producers of cluster munitions now banned under international law for their impact on civilians.
Despite the dissatisfaction held by many for the current state of affairs, and all the talk of urging a more “responsible capitalism,” politicians and regulators have been too timid to challenge the status quo. The aims of the campaign are simple: “Banks rely on the deposits of ordinary savers. So when you choose where you keep your money, you are choosing between supporting business as usual, or taking a simple but powerful step towards a better banking system and a better future. By moving your money, you can directly support an ethical and socially useful bank and send a message about the sort of society and economy you want to see. And one you’d rather not.”
If you are sceptical about the campaign’s effectiveness, it’s worth noting that it follows on from a highly successful movement in the US, which has led to over 10m people moving their money into local financial institutions. In a single day, over 40,000 people moved their accounts. A student-led consumer boycott against Barclays in the UK in the 1980s successfully led to their pull out from Apartheid South Africa.
You can participate by transferring your bank account to more ethical alternatives, such as credit unions, building societies or ethical banks such Triodos and the Co-operative (who offer a student account). For more information, and to see how your current bank compares against ethical criteria, visit www.moveyourmoney.co.uk