Welcome to this newsletter from the Customer Union for Ethical Banking, the independent union for customers of The Co-operative Bank.
The bank’s Ethical Poll has now closed, and in this month’s newsletter we report on the bank’s answers to our questions on the poll, and the comments you sent.
Save the date for our annual Gathering
We’re planning our annual Gathering for the afternoon of Saturday 20th November (1pm – 4pm). The Gathering is a chance for us all to reflect on the work of the Customer Union in the year gone by and our priorities for the year ahead. In recent years we’ve also had a speaker from the Co-op Bank joining us for part of the meeting, giving you a chance to put your questions to the bank as well.
Like last year’s gathering, this year’s will be online only. Do save the date, and we’ll be in touch with more details nearer the time.
Your comments on the Ethical Poll
We received plenty of emails from members and supporters of the Customer Union about the bank’s Ethical Poll. On balance, these were mostly critical of the poll, and the point raised most often was about the way the poll asked bank customers to select “the issues that matter most” for each set of policy statements, rather than allowing customers to indicate their support for each statement individually, as it has been done in the past
This left no way to indicate support for all the proposed policy statements, or even most of them, and leads to the impression that the bank is looking to drop the statements with the least support. This was a point we raised with the bank in advance of the poll’s public launch, after we received a copy of the questions from the bank. However the bank replied that it was too late to make changes at that stage.
The bank has said clearly in its comments to us that it is not looking to drop Ethical Policy statements, and we’ll be closely watching the process to make sure of this.
The bank’s answers on the Ethical Poll
In our last newsletter we talked about what the poll implies about changes the bank is proposing to make to the Ethical Policy, including new statements, and some concerns we had about potential changes to existing ones. The bank responded to us on these, and we also spotted some additional issues which we raised to the bank in a second set of questions.
Since we asked a lot of questions, we won’t include the whole set of questions and answers in this newsletter, but for those that would like to read them in full we have put them online here. In summary, the most important message from the bank was “We are not looking to remove anything from the Policy”. More specifically:
- On human rights, the exclusion of businesses with links to oppressive regimes that are a cause for concern “will be maintained”.
- On climate and the exclusion of businesses involved in the distribution of tar sands and certain high-impact biofuels, the bank said: “We do not plan to remove this exclusion from the Ethical Policy.”
- Also on climate, the commitment to support businesses involved in renewables “will be maintained.”
- On animal welfare and the poll question on avoiding banking for organisations involved in the exploitation of animals, the bank said: “There is no suggestion that we would look to exclude all forms of animal farming.”
Finally, we asked whether the bank would commit to external auditing of the implementation of the Ethical Policy in the policy itself. On this, the bank’s response was less reassuring: “We appreciate the importance of external assurance and this becoming a requirement for some elements of sustainability reporting within our industry. It therefore may not be relevant to include a specific statement within the Ethical Policy, although this will be considered.”
The bank’s Ethical Policy implementation was externally audited by specialist sustainability auditors each year until 2018, and the bank has pledged to return to this practice. It also committed that this year’s report, published in February, would receive an audit after publication. With its 2022 report due in February next year, we are eager for confirmation that a specialist sustainability auditor has been retained and is in place. This needs to happen to avoid the issue overshadowing the launch of the new Ethical Policy in its 30th anniversary year.
This crucial point aside, we’re pleased by the confirmation that the bank is not planning to remove those policies that did not make it into the poll, we and look forward to seeing them included as the new policy is developed, alongside the new additions that will move the bank’s ethical positioning forward.
With best wishes,
The Save Our Bank team
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