Bank Policies Address Land Grab Issues - Oxfam
3 December 2014 at 9:01 am
Global aid agency Oxfam has welcomed progress by two of the big four banks Westpac and NAB on the issue of land grabs, with both financial institutions releasing new policies on the financing of agribusiness and improper land acquisitions.
Oxfam Australia Chief Executive Dr Helen Szoke said Westpac’s new policy meant the bank would not finance agribusiness companies that violated the rights of local communities, such as the right to free, prior and informed consent for land deals.
“Recognising the importance of all communities’ rights to provide free, prior and informed consent on land deals is a key part of safeguarding the rights to their land,” Dr Szoke said.
Oxfam said the move comes just weeks after the National Australia Bank released a policy on improper land acquisitions which clearly outlines what actions the bank will take to seek to ensure their business dealings respect land rights.
The release of Westpac and NAB policies comes six months after Oxfam released a report, Banking on Shaky Ground, which showed Australia’s big banks have backed companies involved in unfair land deals – often referred to as ‘land grabs’ – in the agriculture and forestry sectors.
“The impacts on affected communities include food shortages, loss of livelihoods and contamination of local water,” Dr Szoke said.
“The new Westpac policy covers companies that Westpac finances that grow, process, manufacture or distribute palm oil, soy and timber, and states that the bank won’t fund companies that negatively impact on important conservation forests or violate the rights of workers.”
Dr Szoke said that whilst the policy was an important step, it did not address disclosure of Westpac’s exposure to land deals or redress for affected communities, which Oxfam emphasised are important to a Zero Tolerance for Land Grabs approach.
“Westpac has said it will review its other policies and frameworks relating to these areas, so there is still some way to go,” she said.
“To truly be transparent, Oxfam has also emphasised that the banks should disclose their exposure to land risk in the agriculture commodities industry, including the location and names of clients.
“It’s good to see that Westpac has clarified its financing links to agribusiness, working with the PNG Investment Promotion Authority to update official records last week to show that it no longer finances WTK Group in PNG, a company linked to land grabs.”
Dr Szoke said that following on from NAB’s earlier announcement of its policy on improper land acquisitions this policy by Westpac showed that banks were taking this issue seriously and were indeed capable of acting on land grabs.
“It’s important to recognise that companies can grow their business by working with communities, rather than against them,” she said.
“The NAB policy is important because it clearly states that the bank will not lend to companies where credible evidence exists that they have engaged in land grabbing.
“It also clearly outlines what the bank will do to respect land rights and makes land rights part of its annual reporting.”
Since April over 8,000 Australians have written to their banks and 17,000 have signed a petition calling for the banks to take action on land grabs.
To Oxfam’s report Banking on Shaky Ground: Australia’s Big Four Banks and Land Grabs HERE