Open letter to the Co-op Bank on Palestine groups

Here is the text of an open letter from the Save Our Bank campaign to the Co-operative Bank.

Niall Booker
CEO, Co-operative Bank
PO Box 101
1 Balloon Street
Manchester, M60 4EP

Open letter from the Save our Bank Campaign

Please reconsider your decision on banking services for Palestine support organisations

 

Dear Mr Booker,

It has come to our attention that the Co-operative Bank has closed a number of accounts of Palestine solidarity organisations in the UK.

www.palestinecampaign.org/co-operative-bank-close-pscs-account

We think this is the first serious ethical misjudgement since the Bank has come under its new ownership.

A high number of bank customers have contacted Save our Bank campaign today to inform us that this action means that they will now close their bank accounts.

We call on the Bank to take urgent remedial action before it causes further damage to its credibility and undermines its claim to offer a genuine ethical alternative in the UK market.

We are aware of your statement on the subject as follows:

“This decision is not a reflection on the work carried out by many organisations throughout the world, or a statement about the causes they support. We remain a committed supporter of charities which can meet the industry level requirements. However, in common with all banks, we have to perform due diligence on our customers, their accounts and the payments they make to ensure the Bank complies with anti-money laundering obligations and to manage the Bank’s risk.  This is part of our normal banking processes and is an area where the Bank has made some changes recently to bring it into line with the industry generally.

"For customers who operate in, or send money to, any very high risk or high risk locations throughout the world, advanced due diligence checks are required by all banks to ensure that funds do not inadvertently fund illegal or other proscribed activities.

"Depending on the particular circumstances it may not be possible for us to complete these checks to our satisfaction and the decision to close a number of accounts, including the PSC and some of its affiliates, is an inevitable result of this process.  Unfortunately, after quite extensive research, the charities involved did not meet our requirements or, in our view, allow us to fulfil our obligations.

"This does not mean that we cannot or will not facilitate humanitarian, educational, medical and human rights donations to the Gaza region.  Médecins Sans Frontières‎, The British Council, Amnesty, ActionAid and Oxfam all do excellent work in these fields in Gaza and elsewhere and we make regular donations to some of these organisations through our current account and credit cards.

"We would like to reassure customers that we apply consistent criteria when dealing with all customers and countries and this decision is about adhering to our obligations under the law and not about arbitrary decisions or any form of discrimination or inequality. We have done considerable research and this decision is based on our adherence to our legal obligations and on our assessment of risk. Adhering to our obligations is clearly part of our ethics and we continue to support charities in all sorts of areas who can meet our criteria including charities as stated above which operate in Gaza. ”

We think this answer shows a poor understanding of why many customers have chosen to bank with the Co-operative.  It is precisely because the bank was not 'in line with the industry generally' and was prepared to take risks in support of human rights that the Bank's customer offer was attractive.

Our supporters are concerned that this decision demonstrates a general lack of attention on the importance of ethical issues across the business generally and would like to know:

a) Whether the Values and Ethics Committee were consulted on this decision?

b) Whether the impact of this decision on the ethical customer base was considered elsewhere in the organisation before it went ahead?

c) What is it exactly that these smaller campaigns need to do differently in order to satisfy your due diligence checks and to retain banking services?

We are calling on the Bank to:

a) State now that it will work in good faith with any affected organisation that wishes to keep its account with the Co-operative to overcome any legal or regulatory obstacles that may exist – we understand that many of the organisations concerned have now moved accounts and are unlikely to move back, however some do wish to keep their Co-operative accounts and deserve to be given that opportunity.

b) Review the decision to close accounts, the extent to which the bank could have assisted organisations in meeting its tests, how it could better have taken account of its obligations under its ethics policy, and involving as appropriate independent oversight by the Values and Ethics Committee and publication of findings.

c) Improve and document the process by which the ethical impacts of any future account rationalisation will be considered.

 

We applaud the Bank's decision, also taken last week, to sign the Paris Pledge on phasing out any support for coal power generation. 

To keep customers on board though, it will be necessary to not only make good commitments going forward but also to ensure that its excellent ethical commitments made in the past are not undermined.

Yours sincerely

 

Rob Harrison

Save Our Bank campaign