The Big Banks Linked To Destruction Of The Rainforest, According To A New Report

Wall Street and Financial District of New York City. Marus Arina/Shutterstock

The Amazon fires shook the world this summer, serving as a vivid indication of the planet’s deforestation epidemic. While it's easy to pin the blame on a few politicians and their sketchy friends, some of those implicated in the destruction of the world's rainforests might be a lot closer to home than you realize.

A new report, titled "Money to Burn", by the NGO Global Witness has investigated the link between hundreds of international banks and the billions of dollars fuelling some of the world’s most harmful agribusinesses linked to deforestation. Among the 300-odd financial players that are bankrolling and profiting from deforestation, there are Barclays, HSBC, Santander, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan, Bank of America, BlackRock, Morgan Stanley, and many other household names.

In other words, your investments and pension pots might have been quietly funneled by these banks to companies that are destroying the rainforests, deepening the climate crisis, and stripping indigenous people of their land.

The report reached these findings by snooped around databases that documented loans, investments, and other types of financing associated with six of the major agribusinesses most implicated in the destruction of rainforests. 

These huge businesses are either directly or indirectly involved in the production of things like palm oil, beef, and rubber – some of the biggest drivers of deforestation – in the Brazilian Amazon, the Congo Basin, and Papua New Guinea. Most of these companies claim to have cut ties with old practices that caused deforestation, but Global Witness argues that they cannot guarantee their supply chains are deforestation-free.

Their findings suggest that many of the world’s biggest banks were investing within these companies with sums amounting to a total of $44 billion. 

Deforestation in the tropics is fuelled by agribusiness, especially the rearing of cattle for beef. Rich Carey/Shutterstock

One of the six major agribusinesses looked at in the report was JBS, the world’s biggest meatpacker and the single biggest supplier of beef, chicken, and leather globally. While JBS argues it’s no longer associated with animals from embargoed forested areas in the Amazon, a major investigative report found that the company was being supplied with cattle from embargoed areas. JBS denies this claim and the accusations of Global Witness. 

Despite this murky backstory, they are still able to secure billions of dollars of investment from some of the world's biggest banks. Global Witness has numerous large investors from North America and Europe, including the American Capital Group, BlackRock, Deutsche Bank.

“The rapid breakdown of our climate is a concern to many – including bank customers – so it’s unsurprising that banks and investors proudly trumpet policies on ethical investment and lending, giving the impression they are not pumping money into companies that would fell and burn precious rainforests,” Ed Davey, head of Forest Investigations at Global Witness, said in press release. 

“But their hypocrisy is clear: the same financial institutions are breaking their own policies at will and in search of profit, make many of their promises barely worth the paper they are printed on," they added."

“Members of the public will be shocked to know that the bank they have a current account with, that manages their pension fund or invests their retirement nest egg are enabling the destruction of the world’s most previous ecosystems.”

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