Newsletter 20 Jan: The Co-op Bank’s new ethics policy is finally unveiled...

The Co-op Bank has finally unveiled its new Ethical Policy - and the good news is that, in the words of an old TV ad, there’s “nowt taken out”.

That means as Co-op customers, we can still be sure our money isn’t going into arms for oppressive regimes, companies that abuse labour rights, animal testing of cosmetics, and the various other corporate misdeeds customers have told the bank to say “no” to.

And with a growing global movement to divest from the fossil fuel industry, it means if you bank with the Co-op you can still be sure that your money is not going into oil, gas or coal extraction. There’s no other bank on the high street that can say that.

We think we can all take some credit for this. We made sure the bank knew that we – more than 10,000 of its customers – were dead set against any watering down of this policy. When the bank’s ethics survey, on which this policy is largely based, didn’t include all of the old ethical policy statements, we wrote to them and pointed out what was missing. All those missing statements are included.

So, what’s new?

As expected, the main new feature of the policy is that it is no longer only about where our money does and doesn’t go. It now talks about things like transparency, responsibility and treating customers fairly as well. This is all good stuff, and given the bank’s recent troubles, probably helps - although these are mostly the sort of commitments any bank could make.

But there are good new policies as well. Here are six things we were impressed by:

  1. A new commitment not to finance companies with an irresponsible approach to paying taxes. The bank will use a fairly narrow definition of irresponsible, but we think this is a good move forward . The bank itself has also committed to pay taxes in line with “the letter and the spirit” of legislation. That’s good too, but we’d like to see them go further and sign up to the Fair Tax Mark.
  2. No finance for pay day loans companies. Good.
  3. Not financing companies whose “activities seriously contribute to the degradation of endangered species’ habitats” is a worthy addition to the animal welfare policy.
  4. A commitment to keep reporting every year on the decisions they take under the policy. This is needed for transparency, and we hope it will get a proper independent audit.
  5. A section on “ethical campaigns”, which talks about the bank’s proud campaigning history and promises to keep it going. We look forward to seeing the first campaign!
  6. A commitment to become a Living Wage employer. As HSBC, RBS and Barclays have already done this, it’s about time. But after we have joined Unite the union in calling for fair pay at the bank it’s a welcome move.

There’s also a policy on bonuses, which commits the bank to “ensuring pay and rewards for senior executives at The Co-operative Bank are market-based, fair and responsible and clearly linked to individual and company performance including the creation of sustainable value for all stakeholders”. “Market-based” gives plenty of scope for silly bonuses, but “fair and reasonable” are good words for us to use to pressure the bank, and we welcome the use of the word “stakeholders” rather than “shareholders”. In the past we called on Niall Booker to turn down his potential £1.7 million bonus , we call again for a sign from top management that they understand what “fair and reasonable” means to the rest of us.

But what about ownership...?

While the new policy document talks about the bank’s co-operative roots and how co-operative values are now enshrined in its constitution, there is no getting away from the fact that it is 80% owned by private investors, and the policy makes no mention of trying to change that.

That’s why we think we need an organised group of customers, the “customers union”, to work together to build a growing co-operative ownership stake, hold management to account on these ethical promises, and an alliance with organised employees. We had a great response to the survey we sent out at the end of last year, with 80% of you saying you would join such a union. We’ll be building up our plans in the next couple of weeks and letting you know how you can get involved.

In the mean time, you can check out the policy that you helped save – here.

Best wishes,

The Save Our Bank team

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