Press Release / May 24, 2013

Bill Oddie attending HSBC AGM to grill directors over role in Borneo rainforest destruction and corruption scandals as bank’s profits soar

Naturalist and comedian Bill Oddie will today attend the HSBC annual general meeting to seek answers from the board of directors over the bank’s lending to companies destroying Borneo’s rainforests. The companies that HSBC has lent to have been at the forefront of a timber and palm oil bonanza that has left less than 5 per cent of the Malaysian state of Sarawak’s rainforests unaffected by logging or plantations. A number of these clients have close links to the state’s Chief Minister, who controls all logging and plantation licences and is subject to an official anti-corruption investigation.

Bill Oddie’s action comes on the back of his film, BankWatch, which saw him evicted from the bank’s London headquarters whilst documenting the natural habitat of the HSBC banker, a predatory species driving rainforest destruction. The film has had over 200,000 views, while an accompanying petition has over 15,000 signatures.

Oddie teamed up with the campaign group Global Witness to expose how the UK’s biggest bank has made almost £100 million by providing loans and services to companies involved in illegal logging and human rights abuses, in violation of HSBC’s own policies.

The bank this week responded to the growing outcry by publicly announcing a set of reviews to examine its policies and determine whether its forestry clients around the world are adhering to them. Global Witness has welcomed this step, but is pressing HSBC to close major loopholes in its policies and make public its full forest policy, which is only available to the public in summary form.

“It’s hard to get excited about a limited review of an opaque policy sold to the public as a serious commitment to the world’s forests,” said Oddie. “We want Stuart Gulliver [HSBC CEO] to make an unambiguous commitment that HSBC will never bankroll companies logging or clearing natural tropical forests, and then to put credible measures in place to show its customers and shareholders that it is serious about delivering on that commitment.”

As the nominee of a shareholder in the bank, Oddie will have two and a half minutes to ask what it plans to do about this scandal. During 2013, HSBC’s profits have almost doubled to £5.5 billion whilst CEO Stuart Gulliver has taken home a pay and benefits package worth over £7 million.

Global Witness investigations have also shown how HSBC provided loans and services to logging companies with close ties to Sarawak’s Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud, who is currently under investigation by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission. By funnelling money into a forestry sector notorious for corruption and high-level political links, HSBC is at serious risk of once again violating international anti-money laundering regulations which require it to carry out extra checks on clients linked to senior politicians.

Taib has ruled Sarawak for over three decades.  He controls all land allocation and forestry licensing, and is widely understood to abuse this power to enrich his family and associates. HSBC’s due diligence checks should have flagged that he posed a serious corruption risk. Global Witness believes HSBC either did not carry out sufficient checks, or carried out these checks and failed to act on them.

“I’ve been bombarded by messages from HSBC customers saying they will stop banking with them if it doesn’t drop these clients and clean up its act for good,” said Oddie. “In light of recent money laundering scandals involving the bank, you would think they’d run a mile from such dubious deals. The bank must stop abusing the trust of its customers and shareholders in this way.”

/ENDS

Notes to editors:

  • Bill Oddie is available for interviews outlining why he signed up for this campaign.
  • The petition to HSBC is available here: https://secure.38degrees.org.uk/hsbc-sarawak
  • HSBC’s public statement in response to the petition is here: http://www.hsbc.com/news-and-insight/2013/hsbc-forest-land-and-forest-products-policy-update
  • The film and more information on Global Witness campaign on Sarawak can be found here: http://www.globalwitness.org/hsbc-sarawak/
  • HSBC acted as lead arranger for $US1.5 billion in credit for Singaporean palm oil giant Wilmar International, a company rated by Newsweek as the least environmentally friendly company in the world for two years straight in 2011 and 2012. The International Finance Corporation (IFC) halted loans to Wilmar in 2009 after its ombudsman investigated allegations that the company cleared primary forests without permits and seized land illegally, concluding that the company’s plantation operations were not compliant with national legal requirements.

For photos and interviews, please contact Oliver Courtney on +44 (0)7912 517147 or [email protected]ness.org