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Belgium banks ban the bomb

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Belgian financial institutions led the way against investments in cluster munitions, now they are poised to do the same on nuclear weapons. Three major Belgian financial institutions -- KBC Bank, VDK Bank and De Groof Petercam Asset Management -- have cited the  Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) as the reason for ending investments in companies associated with the production of nuclear weapons.

The move is especially significant as Belgium is a country that has not itself joined the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, and, indeed, even hosts U.S. nuclear weapons at the Kleine Brogel air base. Nevertheless, the Belgian population has long been opposed to the practice, and now the financial sector is taking note.

After the nuclear ban treaty was adopted at the United Nations in 2017, KBC bank decided to proactively modify its exclusion criteria to prevent future investments in companies associated with nuclear weapons. The policy issued in 2018 explicitly blacklists companies involved in production and/or development of “Nuclear weapons as banned by the 2017 UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons”.  When the UN treaty went into effect earlier this year, KBC announced its policy is fully in line with the treaty.

DeGroof Petercam Asset Management went about the issue by updating its Controversial Activities policy in March. The policy recognizes Belgium isn’t a signatory to the nuclear ban, yet emphasises, “the fact that the financing of nuclear weapons is not prohibited by law in Belgium does not mean that DPAM, as an investor, should not question whether such investments are ethically sensitive.”

Also operating In the Belgian market, VDK Spaarbank Bank and Triodos, both known as ethical or sustainable banks, have also issued clear policies against investing in anything to do with nuclear weapons. Earlier this year, when the UN treaty went into force, VDK advertised its zero tolerance approach to inhumane weapons with an advertising campaign “You’d rather invest in the nucleus of your city than in nuclear weapons? Us too.” 

These Belgian financial institutions are recognising that according to polls more than 77% of Belgians want their government to join the UN nuclear ban treaty. The current government also recognizes that this treaty “could give new impetus to multilateral nuclear disarmament”.

Belgium’s financial sector has played a leading role in ending financial support for companies involved in producing indiscriminate weapons. Before the global treaty outlawing cluster munitions went into force, the Belgian parliament enacted legislation prohibiting any form of financing of any company associated with the production of cluster munitions.

There are a few things the Belgians do really well -- fries, chocolates, and ending financial relationships with the weapons sector. It’s just a matter of time before the government catches up with the financial sector’s lead.