[Update, 28 May 2012: The Scotsman has failed to publish this letter. I have sent it to the Herald.]
Just sent this letter to the Scotsman. It will be interesting to see if it is published!
Scotmid (the Scottish Midland Co-operative Society Limited, trading as Scotmid Co-operative) is an independent retail consumers’ co-operative that prides itself on the ethical nature of its business. However, at its recent AGM in Edinburgh I learnt that it banks with the Royal Bank of Scotland, an institution whose dismal record on human rights and the environment, and its use of tax havens, explains its Ethiscore rating of only 1.5 out of a possible 20. According to information provided by Move Your Money UK, RBS invests in, amongst other dubious projects, the exploitation of tar sands in Madagascar and Alberta, Canada. The legal struggle of the First Nations Beaver Lake Cree people against the latter project – environmentally devastating – is backed by The Co-operative Group Limited’s Co-operative Bank. It seems that the left hand of these co-operative institutions does not know what the right is doing. A petition to get Scotmid to bank more ethically (http://tiny.cc/scotmidbank) has now been signed by, amongst others, journalist and broadcaster Lesley Riddoch and author Andy Wightman, both of whom take a keen interest in land-ownership issues. I would encourage others to examine this issue and consider adding their signatures.
Scotmid is not the only surprising RBS supporter. The Scottish Government appears to believe that this unethical and incompetent institution (which many authorities maintain played a significant role in causing the current economic crisis) is fit to teach our schoolchildren about money under its MoneySense programme. (Of course, UK taxpayers largely own RBS and the UK government has failed to direct it to behave more ethically, so the Scottish Government is not alone in tacitly supporting its nefarious activities.) How can RBS be considered a fit and proper institution to teach children about money management, and why does the Scottish Government appear to allow it this effective advertising and whitewashing/greenwashing opportunity? I have launched a campaign to change this (http://tiny.cc/moneynonsense).I believe that Move Your Money UK (an organisation that encourages ethical banking) and Positive Money (an organisation that explains the flawed nature of our monetary system) would be far more appropriate institutions to teach children about money, but this raises the broader question of to what extent, if any, third parties (especially logo-emblazoned ones) should be allowed into our schools. Work experience is one thing, but by allowing businesses to teach our children in our schools in this way, are we not effectively condoning the stealthy privatisation of the education system? At the very least, I would want schoolchildren to be made aware of their responsibility to consider the broader consequences of their banking decisions, and for any branded literature provided by organisations to be balanced by information on their records and practices.
In conclusion, I would encourage all individuals and institutions to consider the role of banks in the ongoing global economic and environmental crisis when deciding with whom to bank. Should RBS choose to behave ethically, I would be happy to call for people to bank with it.
DR R. ERIC SWANEPOEL