It all comes down to what values you stand for

September 18, 2013

18 September 2013

With the release of ICAN’s Don’t bank on the bomb report, Swedish Physicians Against Nuclear Weapons seized the opportunity to highlight the dubious policies of four Swedish banks and hold their feet to the fire for their dealings with producers of nuclear weapons. Swedish media jumped on the story and the banks saw their Facebook pages flooded with questions about their investment practices with respect to the arms industry. A series of meetings were held with the banks to discuss the merits and challenges of divestment, including a roundtable with participation from Swedish Red Cross and Ethix SRI Advisors. A few banks demonstrated a clear interest. Swedbank issued a position paper in April 2013 announcing its new zero-tolerance policy with respect to companies who support or finance nuclear weapons systems. We spoke to Swedbank’s, Amanda Jackson who told us more about the bank’s position paper and its decision to take a progressive stance on divestment.

Could you tell us a little bit more about the new policy that Swedbank has adopted?

In April 2013 Swedbank adopted a position paper that clarifies how Swedbank shall behave in relation to the defence equipment sector. The paper contains a definition of defence equipment and restrictions regarding financial services to the sector. This position paper applies to the defence equipment sector in all jurisdictions where Swedbank Group operates or does business. For example the position paper establishes restrictions concerning nuclear weapons and nuclear weapons. A zero tolerance principle for financial services to customers belonging to a Group that is manufacturing, modernizing, selling or buying illegal weapons such as anti-personnel mines, cluster bombs, chemical weapons and biological weapons and / or nuclear weapons is applied.

What initiated this work?

This question is not new to the bank; it has been discussed in different contexts before. Furthermore I have been working full-time with human rights and sustainability issues and have a personal engagement, so it has been possible to devote resources to pursuing an issue that was already on the agenda.

Which incentives are behind this work?

It all comes down to what kind of a company you want to be and which values you stand for. In many issues people may have different views on what is ethical or not, when it comes to nuclear weapons however I think it is quite easy to say that they don’t have many positive sides to them.  That is why it shouldn’t be that difficult for a company to not invest, or finance, these kinds of weapons of mass destruction.

What has been hardest in this work, both in completion of policy and in current implementation process?

There are of course challenges in implementing a decision like this. You have to develop new routines and practices, as well as make sure the information is spread and technical solutions are found. I must admit it might takes a lot of work, but it would be a shame to let that be the only reason to keep financing it.

Can customers of the bank be sure that no money ends up in nuclear production?

We started to implement this decision in 2013. One step of the implementation was to create a routine where all cases related to the defence equipment industry is escalated to the  bank’s Ethics and Sustainability Council. In practice this means that all parts of the organization can bring cases before this council for a recommendation before entering in to any business relations. Aside from me analyzing sustainability and ethical risks escalated to the council as well as providing input and advice, there is a dedicated credit analyst trained in international law analyzing each case escalated to the council that is related to the defense equipment industry  . For companies connected to the nuclear weapons industries, in accordance with our definition, we have a zero-tolerance policy and no new business can be made with these companies. Furthermore, on our asset management side, Swedbank Robur is right now in the process of divesting from companies with clear connections to nuclear weapons.

If I ask my local bank office, do they know about this policy?

I hope so!

How can we as customers push this to become even better?

I’m convinced that feedback from consumers for responsible and ethical products and services is very important, not only for us but for all types of business and companies. After all, our customers are the reason we exist. I would love to see more consumers engaged in these issues so that we together can work to serve the needs and for enhanced respec

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