Amsterdam, July 5, 2019
Today, Friends of the Earth organizations: Milieudefensie (Netherlands), Sustainable Development Institute – SDI (Liberia) and Wahana Lingkungan Hidup Indonesia – WALHI (Indonesia) have filed a complaint against the Dutch bank ING Group with the Netherlands National Contact Point for the implementation of the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. The complaint concerns the financing of the oil palm companies Noble Group, Bolloré Group, Socfin and Wilmar International and relates to the deforestation of the rainforest, land grabbing and child labour.
The complainants are calling for ING Bank to stop investing in these companies and the entire palm oil industry. In addition, the organizations want the Dutch authorities to acknowledge the bank's responsibility for the negative impacts described in the complaint, as it was aware of the latter, but did not take appropriate measures to combat them. They call on the Dutch government to put in place binding regulations for the financial sector, and call on Dutch citizens to reconsider the possibility of using ING's banking services in view of the environmental damage and human rights violations.
"We have informed ING of violations committed by the palm oil industry since the turn of the century," says Evert Hassink, policy manager at Milieudefensie. "But ING continued to fund these companies. The bank wants to talk to them to convince them to choose more sustainable options. But after so many years it became clear that this dialogue had no significant results."
Oslan Purba, WALHI's Director of Programs, says: "The palm oil industry has been one of the main culprits in deforestation in Indonesia. This sector is putting pressure on the Indonesian government to protect its interests. Every euro that European financial institutions have invested in unscrupulous companies has resulted in more encroachment on plantations on people's land and forests. The illegal operations of the oil sector render the Indonesian moratorium on the expansion of industrial activities in virgin forests and peatlands ineffective. »
The complaint is based on evidence of breaches by three ING customers:
· The Noble Group is said to be responsible for deforestation of thousands of hectares of rainforest in Indonesia.[i]
· Research and interviews with communities in Indonesia and Liberia show that Wilmar International is allegedly involved in violations of labour rights, including child labour.[ii]
· In the plantations of the Socfin Group, of which Bolloré is a major shareholder, various human rights abuses were reported in Cameroon and Sierra Leone, including violations of land rights and the right to security and privacy.[iii]
Consequences for ING
If the Dutch National Contact Point supports the allegations, this may have consequences for the bank, which could be excluded from trade missions, grants and government support abroad. More importantly, it sets a precedent for other banks on how to comply with the OECD Guidelines, and increases the opportunities for communities to get redress. The OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises outline what governments expect from companies in the area of social responsibility. They indicate what business behaviour should be in terms of human rights, child labour, the environment and corruption.
The French and Belgian National Contact Points for the OECD Guidelines have already determined that Socfin, an ING customer, has not complied with these principles.[iv]Several other financial institutions have ended their relationships with controversial palm oil companies, such as the Noble Group.[v]The Norwegian government pension fund, for example, has stopped funding no less than 33 palm oil companies.[vi]In the Netherlands, the insurance company Aegon has disengaged from the entire palm oil sector.[vii]
Several other civil society organizations, such as ReAct, Brot fur alle, FIAN Belgium, CNCD-11.11.11 and FERN, have joined the complaint against ING submitted by the Friends of the Earth organizations.
[i]EIA and Telepak, 2012, Clear-cut operation. How International Investors and REDD Donors profit from deforestation in West – Papua, https://eia-international.org/wp-content/uploads/EIA-Clear-Cut-Exploitation-FINAL-v2.pdf.
[ii]Amnesty International, 2016. The palm oil scandal. https://www.amnesty.org/download/Documents/ASA2151842016FRENCH.pdf
[iii]FIAN Belgium, about Sierra Leone: https://www.fian.be/Accaparement-de-terres-et-huile-de-palme-en-Sierra-Leone-1258?lang=fr, https://www.fian.be/Landgrabbing-by-SOCFIN-in-Sierra-Leone-documentation?lang=fr and FERN about Cameroon: Speaking truth to power: The village women taking on the palm oil giant, September 2018, p. 8, available on https://fern.org/takingonthepalmoilgiant, and ReACT about Cameroon: https://www.projet-react.org/fr/bollore-presentation/.
[iv]OECD contact point in France, June 2013: https://www.tresor.economie.gouv.fr/Ressources/File/397319
[v]Council on Ethics, Recommendation on the exclusion of Noble Group Limited from the Government Pension Fund Global's Investment Universe, https://etikkradet.no/files/2017/02/Recommendation-Noble-260613.pdf, and KLP, 2015, Decision to exclude from investment. http://english.klp.no/polopoly_fs/1.31196.1434009821!/menu/standard/file/Noble%20Group%20Ltd%20%20beslutning%20om%20uttrekk%2001062015%20ENG.pdf, and https://www.robeco.com/docm/docu-exclusion-policy-and-list.pdf.
[vi]Rainforest Foundation Norway, 2019:
[vii]Aegon Netherlands, 2018: https://nieuws.aegon.nl/aegon-nederland-stapt-uit-palmolie/.