‘Dirty bank’ cleaning up its act?

  • Written by  Alice Sloman
  • Published in Forests
Truck unloads fresh harvest of oil palm fruit (Image: Photomagically) Truck unloads fresh harvest of oil palm fruit (Image: Photomagically)
20 Jul
HSBC has requested a Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil investigation into one of its own clients, Noble Plantations

Noble Plantations, part of the HSBC-funded Noble Group, has allegedly been preparing to clear 18,000 hectares of forest in Papua, Indonesia for palm oil. In response, HSBC referred the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) to supporting documentation and as a result, Noble has been advised to halt development while the investigation takes place. Earlier this year, HSBC tightened its ‘Sustainability Risk’ policy, which states, in part, that: ‘HSBC will not knowingly provide financial services to customers involved directly in or sourcing from suppliers involved in deforestation.’

Greenpeace has welcomed the HSBC investigation stating: ‘this is the first public evidence that HSBC is taking its new palm oil policy seriously.’ Greenpeace, together with the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), has put considerable pressure on HSBC – as well as other banks such ABN, Amro, ING and Rabobank – to raise the complaint with its mutual client, the Noble Group.

oilpalmfruitHarvested oil palm fruit on the ground of a palm oil estate (Image: KYTan)

The banks affiliated with Noble Group have policies in place supposedly designed to prohibit the funding of companies destroying High Conservation Value forest. One such policy is a commitment to the RSPO, a sustainability body for over 3,000 members of the palm oil industry. Members such as HSBC rely on the RSPO to prevent them from funding deforestation. In 2017, the Guardian revealed past instances in which RSPO members, such as the IOI Group, failed to meet standards put in place to protect peat areas and forests, inferring that banks should be more active in ensuring their clients are complying with policy.

In January 2017, Greenpeace released a ‘Dirty Bankers’ report claiming HSBC had facilitated $16.3 billion of loans and credit to palm oil companies responsible for Indonesian forest destruction since 2012. Activists visited over 60 HSBC branches to inform its customers and in February 2017, 120,000 people in the UK signed a Greenpeace petition calling for HSBC to stop funding deforestation- 25% of signatories being HSBC customers.

In response to both Greenpeace’s actions, and the resulting public pressure to enforce a ‘no deforestation’ policy, on 20 February, HSBC released a ‘Revised Agricultural Commodities Policy: Palm Oil,’ consistent with ‘No Deforestation, No Peat, No Exploitation’ policies made common in the palm oil supply chain. In a statement, HSBC’s Chief Executive, Stuart Gulliver, assured the public that: ‘HSBC agrees with Greenpeace and the thousands of people who have contacted us… that rainforests need to be safeguarded.’

HSBCHSBC building (Image: Hatchapongpalurtchaivong)

As one of the largest financiers of the palm oil industry, HSBC has been commended for holding the Noble Group to account in what has been called an unprecedented move for a major bank. The investigation is indicative of a shift towards the ‘moralisation of the market,’ in which ethical consumer preferences are driving changes in market conduct. Jamie Woolley, a spokesperson for Greenpeace commented: ‘HSBC’s decision to do the right thing and trigger an investigation into its own client could save thousands of hectares of pristine rainforests. If other banks are serious about stopping the destruction of rainforests for palm oil, they need to follow suit and take responsibility for their clients’ behaviour.’

Related items

Geographical Week

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox every Friday.


Subscribe Today


Aberystwyth University University of Greenwich The University of Winchester




Travel the Unknown


Like longer reads? Try our in-depth dossiers that provide a comprehensive view of each topic

  • National Clean Air Day
    For National Clean Air Day, Geographical brings together stories about air pollution and the kind of solutions needed to tackle it ...
    The Air That We Breathe
    Cities the world over are struggling to improve air quality as scandals surrounding diesel car emissions come to light and the huge health costs of po...
    Diabetes: The World at Risk
    Diabetes is often thought of as a ‘western’ problem, one linked to the developed world’s overindulgence in fatty foods and chronic lack of physi...
    The Nuclear Power Struggle
    The UK appears to be embracing nuclear, a huge U-turn on government policy from just two years ago. Yet this seems to be going against the grain globa...
    When the wind blows
    With 1,200 wind turbines due to be built in the UK this year, Mark Rowe explores the continuing controversy surrounding wind power and discusses the e...


NEVER MISS A STORY - follow Geographical

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in PLACES...


The latest laser scanning technology reveals new insights into the…


Deforestation is having an unexpected effect in the Amazon: fewer…


The iconic Douglas fir tree, familiar to fans of the…


Rocky Mountain forests are not regenerating after wildfires


Cape Town is edging closer to ‘Day Zero’, the long-feared…


Ongoing restoration projects are breathing new life into Florida’s Everglades


Despite protests, an experimental pedestrianisation system is proving to be…


National Archives map historian, Rose Mitchell, highlights some of the…


An expedition into the Jordanian desert is helping teachers and…


Trivia fans take note, Mount Hope in the British Antarctic…


An enormous hydropower development in Ethiopia is expected to put…


From nuclear warnings to whether your favourite band will ‘make…


New maps of global reptile distribution reveal significant gaps in…


Indigenous conservation schemes in Peru can be more effective than…


How are the EU member nations faring in the fight…


Violence against women violates human rights, and the lack of…


Deadly heat waves could become more frequent in cities thanks…


These 13 poignant infographics are in the running for the…


Sometimes referred to as the fourth dimension, time has a…


A global, citizen-led carbon sequestration scheme is aiming to combat…