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Cluster bombs: thanks and next steps

So last week was a good week to start working at Amnesty, and witness the power of cumulative direct action to invoke a change that will have positive and far-reaching international repercussions. On 1 September, Amnesty welcomed the decision by the Royal Bank of Scotland to change its policy and cease investments in companies involved in cluster bomb production. We of course now need to make sure RBS honours these commitments in full.

Campaign background

It’s been a fast-moving campaign. Two weeks ago, we announced we were going to run a hard-hitting advertising campaign (similar to our Shell ad campaign earlier this year), to publicise RBS’s funding of companies producing cluster bomb components.

Despite a new international Treaty banning production, use and trade of cluster munitions, signed by the UK government, which came into effect just over a year ago, RBS has since poured $80million behind companies involved in the production of cluster bombs (scroll to p76 of this detailed report for full details). RBS were exploiting a loophole in the law, so whist technically not illegal, for a corporation 80% owned by British taxpayers, choosing to contribute to the funding of a highly destructive weapon whose victims are almost always civilians (98%) is absolutely unacceptable. We wanted to let the British public know.

To run the ad campaign, we needed your donations – and you gave generously: over a thousand of you donated to co-fund the ads and help expose RBS’s actions in British media. If you have donated to this campaign, we would welcome the funding for our continued work on arms trade regulation (read on to find out what we’re doing next), but if you would like a refund, we are happy to reimburse you.

We also needed you to let RBS know how you felt. An Amnesty-commissioned YouGov poll had found that 78% of the British public believed RBS’s actions should not be legal, and you certainly voiced your concerns: an amazing 11,000 Amnesty supporters and RBS customers have emailed RBS Chief Executive Stephen Hester to call for RBS to cease this activity in the last two weeks.

RBS reacts

Thanks to your emails and donations to run a high-profile ad campaign, in the space of just two weeks RBS has altered its stance completely.

RBS statement, 17 August

We do not invest in companies who produce cluster munitions and do not recognise the claims made in the IKV Pax Christi report. This is a serious issue and we have engaged with the writers of the report to understand these allegations.

(Have a look at our blog challenging RBS’ repeated denials.)

RBS statement, 1 September

RBS statement 2

RBS statement 01/09/11

After discussions with various NGO groups we have identified some defence sector clients whose activities could be considered to be outside the spirit of the Convention. As a result, we will be suspending all further services to any client where we cannot be certain that they are in compliance with our policy. We will seek to work with both the UK Government and NGO groups to create clarity on this issue, and encourage other banks to do the same.

Not only is RBS agreeing to cease investment in companies involved in the production of these weapons, it also now intends to join with others to take this issue to the UK government. It’s the legal loophole around cluster bombs that allowed banks to continually justify their funding of the producers of these weapons, and it’s the UK government that has the responsibility to address this.

The fact that RBS has stated it will work with the government on this is an important step. It’s not just RBS that’s at fault here: there are a number of other high street banks implicated in funding international cluster munitions producers. What we now need is a robust Code of Conduct for all banks to follow – one that sets clear policy guidelines to help banks cease their investments in the producers of cluster munitions.

Amnesty’s strength is its membership, and we absolutely could not have reached this outcome without your support. Whether you emailed RBS, donated to our ad campaign online or by text, or completed an action card, you have helped RBS change their policies. We are so grateful for every individual action. But we’re not quite done.

What we need you to do

We must ensure that the UK government push for an international Arms Trade Treaty to regulate weapon trade – including cluster munitions trafficking – on the global stage. There is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to bring this to fruition over the next year, with the UN Arms Trade Treaty, and a crucial opportunity for the UK government to stand strong on this (and encourage other governments to do likewise) at the 66th United Nations General Assembly in two weeks’ time.

Take action today

Email Foreign Secretary William Hague and push for the UK government to

  • commit to a robust and comprehensive Arms Trade Treaty
  • work to ensure that internal security and policy equipment (eg. crowd control ammunition and tear gas, internal security vehicles) are included within the scope of an ATT
  • lead by example: commit to a detailed, open and rigorous review to strengthen current UK export control decision-making.

We have seen the impact of collective action forcing a multinational bank to readdress its policy: please help us take this forward, and let the UK government hear your support for an international Arms Trade Treaty.

Want a refund?

We will use donations to fund our ongoing campaign for an international Arms Trade Treaty, but will happily reimburse your donation if you wish. Please email to request your refund.

About Amnesty UK Blogs
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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