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Why I wrote to my Bank

There’s something special about children’s movies that resonates in all of us……it’s the narrative that evil will never prevail….

Inevitably when growing up, deciding who the “bad guy” or the “bad thing” is becomes a little more complicated, especially when religion, ideologies and cultural traditions can dictate what we perceive as being good.

But some things, at least in my eyes, are inalienably not okay or fair. Remember how you felt when Musafa, Simba’s Dad, fell at the hand (or claw rather) of Scar….. If you’re anything like me you will have felt like crying out “it’s not fair, he didn’t deserve it!”

I guess a similar sort of feeling happened when I read Oxfam’s ‘Banking on Shaking Ground’ report, given to me to read one day while in the Oxfam Sydney office. I felt that overwhelming feeling of complete sadness, shock and disappointment all at once.

The report basically provides evidence that Australia’s big four banks; ANZ, Westpac, National Australia Bank and the Commonwealth Bank, have and continue to, fund companies that have contributed to illegal logging, forced evictions, food shortages and child labour.

These companies are ‘Land Grabbing.’

This is obviously not okay…

But there’s a silver lining to every dark cloud. Oxfam, after producing this report, launched a campaign to call on the banks to show Zero Tolerance for Land Grabbing.  More specifically Oxfam is asking the big four banks to;

  1. Understand and report on their exposure to deals that could cause land grabbing;
  2. Adopt a public policy of Zero Tolerance for Land Grabbing;
  3. Advocate in the finance sector for responsible lending practices to address land grabbing, and;
  4. Ensure justice and restitution for the communities already affected by land grabbing.

This is where I got involved. In order to put pressure on the banks to do these things, Oxfam has created individual letters, for each of the different banks, which can be signed online or in hard copy. I decided to print a few of the different letters and bring them into the bar I work in. The reaction was really encouraging, all of my co-workers read the letter which applied to their bank (for myself it was Commonwealth Bank), signed the bottom and even wrote additional comments letting their bank know how disappointed they were.

The common reaction was the same one I had, sadness, shock and disappointment. How is it that Australian companies’ are being associated with such atrocities and getting away with it? How is it that the greedy needs of large scale investors takes precedence over the lives of hundreds of innocent people?

The thought of being kicked out of home and having no where or no one to turn to is, for most Australians, an unfathomable thought, and yet for so many people around the world it’s not just a thought it’s their current reality. Many of these people haven’t been fortunate enough to receive an education, and their income and food source are completely reliant on the work they conduct on their own small scale farms and properties, so when that’s taken away from them what options are left in existence?

It feels as if as an adult I am now stuck in the bad part of a children’s movie. But the difference now, besides the fact that the movies I watched when I was a kid were fictional while this situation is very much real, is that the hero or the “good guys” who can come and fix these injustices are people like you and me.

The letters that Oxfam have been sending into the banks and the donations received for the affected communities have already made an impact. Recently in Turubu, Papua New Guinea (PNG) donations received from Oxfam supporters assisted in PNG’s National Court ruling that a lease in Northern PNG, which was the underpinning of a land grab and large deforestation, and which Westpac was associated with, was illegal.

“Donations received from Oxfam supporters helped support the community’s legal action,” said Oxfam’s Associate Country Director, Phillippe Allen.

Here’s to hoping our continual pressure and support for the communities being affected will bring more positive changes.

Donate now to help communities fight for justice against land grabs.