Cluster bombs Facebook Q&A – transcript

Verity Coyle, our lead campaigner for cluster munitions, and Thomas Nash from Article 36 held a live Q&A with our Facebook fans on 24th August.

Here’s a full transcript of the questions and answers. You can join our cluster bombs campaign by calling on RBS to stop investing in cluster bomb manufacturers, and by helping us fund an ad to publicly shame them.

Verity Coyle: Hello everyone, I’m Verity – the campaign manager at Amnesty International UK. How are we all today?

Thomas Nash: Hi there, my name is Thomas Nash from Article 36, one of the UK organisations campaigning against cluster bombs, I’ll be contributing to the Facebook chat today.

Amnesty International UK:Our live chat is starting now on our wall with Verity Coyle and Thomas Nash. Post your questions as new posts directly to our wall, and we’ll answer them as they arrive. First question is from Veronique, asking how banks are still funding cluster bombs…

Question: Hi, you’ve said that investing in cluster bomb is banned, how are banks still funding them?

Answer, Thomas: Hi Veronique, the use, production, transfer and stockpiling of cluster bombs is banned, but different states interpret the provisions of the treaty differently. Most agree that direct investment in companies that make cluster bombs is banned, but some – like the UK – believe that indirect financing (giving general money to arms companies, but not specifically to their cluster bomb projects) is not banned.
Q: thank you Thomas. I find this crazy that total ban doesn’t also cover indirect funding.
A, Thomas: Yes we agree! We are asking the UK government to do something about this by convening a working group to address and put an end to all forms of financing to companies producing cluster bombs. The previous government said they would develop a code of conduct through a working group but so far nothing has been done. Even the banks tell us they want it, so we need the UK government to act.

Q: How do you respond to the defence that “company is fulfilling it’s contracts made before CCM 08″

A, Verity: Hi Greg, In RBS’s case In October 2010, Alliant Techsystems secured a US$1 billion five-year credit facility, comprising a US$600 million revolver and a US$400 million term loan. The proceeds were used for refinancing, to increase working capital and to finance capital expenditures and acquisitions. Royal Bank of Scotland was part of the 20-bank syndicate and provided US$80 million. This is a new agreement made after the CCM 08.
Q: thanks Verity. RBS says that they have i) engaged with the writers of the IKV & Pax Christie report and ii) have received assurances from defence(sic) sector clients that they are compliant with CCM. I would like to be able to respond to the reply RBS sent me.
A, Verity: It’s interesting that these reassurances from the defence sector clients are not public – we’d really like to see them.
You can see the full response we’ve developed to the RBS rebuttal here – https://www2.amnesty.org.uk/blogs/campaigns/stop-rbs-investing-slaughter-%E2%80%93-updated – we go into detail about each of their points, it should give you all the info you need to go back to them – thanks for taking action.
Q: Do you also feel that letters to UK Financial Investments Limited (UKFI) there to protect our investment in RBS can increase the pressure.
A, Verity: Indeed – the more people who can find ways to raise this issue the better – we’re currently gearing up to launch an advertising campaign to expose RBS’s practices but all options are on the table and we’d encourage you to take action

Q: Hi Verity and Thomas. It’s almost unbelievable that RBS is involved in funding the companies behind manufacturing cluster bombs. How realistic is it that RBS will change their position on this matter?

A, Verity: Amnesty is part of the international campaign to ban cluster bombs and its Explosive Disinvestments campaign, we have undertaken a series of actions and dialogue with UK banks on this issue since the campaign launch in 2010. HSBC changed and strengthened its policies and promised to withdraw all funding to companies that produce cluster bombs by 2012. This clearly shows that campaigning can influence banks behavior. RBS, committed to reviewing its cluster bomb policy, but as yet has not published this policy and, unfortunately, has decided to continue to fund companies which are involved in the production of cluster munitions. We hope that as a result of our current campaign, RBS will withdraw this funding and publish a strengthened policy on cluster bombs that will end its financial involvement with any company involved in the production of these weapons. We have met with Barclays bank, who has committed to strengthen policies, but as yet have not yet finalised this work. We are seeking follow up meetings with them.

Q: I am curious about the effectiveness of cluster bombs. My understanding is that they are a cheap force multiplier, hence their popularity, but with obvious consequences once hostilities cease. Presumably countries continue to use them because they feel they’re worth the collateral damage, which is tragic.

A, Thomas: Cluster bombs were really developed to face a Cold War scenario of massed columns of tanks and heavy armour rolling across the plains of Western Europe. In that sense they were a force multiplier. But obviously the Cold War never got hot, so they are pretty much obsolete. Their military effectiveness has never convincingly been put forward either.
Q: I always assumed they were used for cheap area denial, not just for tanks but for infantry too. Not a clue on their effectiveness which is why I posted. What about smart munitions? Should countries be developing cluster bombs with off switches? I’d remain concerned that there’s always a risk of “dud’s” that fail to go off in a timely fashion.
A, Thomas: There was a lot of discussion on cluster bombs with self-destruct mechanisms during the development of the treaty, but ultimately this was rejected because it was not a credible way of preventing the harm these weapons cause. And back to the effectiveness question, yes cluster bombs are also effective against personnel – they have a shaped charge to pierce armour and fragmentation sheath to kill people.

Q: At a visit to Lebanon, I saw big area’s where there were dropped clusterbombs by Israel years ago, the land can’t be used anymore until all explosive devices are dismantled, because of rain the particles of those bombs move to other locations…
Unfortunately Lebanon got the questionable honor to be blessed with many people who with the knowledge and skills to handle explosives but there are just too many of them and there are other priorities, the bigger bombs and grenades…
I have seen the results too: ‘People of all ages with missing legs or arms’…

A, Thomas: I was in Lebanon just after the ceasefire in 2006 and saw the devastation there, about 3 people were killed or injured everyday for the first 6 months after the conflict because of the hundreds of thousands of unexploded cluster bombs. This is exactly why banks should not be funding the makers of these weapons.

Q: which banks are involved? name and shame please

A, Verity:  Some of the banks involved include Barclays, RBS and Lloyds, you can see the full report which has a hall of fame and a hall of shame here http://www.stopexplosiveinvestments.org/report’. The report is based on vigorous research of the banks finances. The report was put together by members of the Cluster Munitions Coalition (which Amnesty is also part of).
Q: thanks, any advice for bank customers?
A, Verity: We are exposing which banks continue to finance these weapons but it is the supporter’s choice who they bank with. Also, it is important to remember that banks do listen to their customers, so you do have an opportunity as a customer to tell the banks that their investments in companies that are involved in the production of cluster bombs is totally unacceptable.

Q: How are the banks directly funding these bombs? Are they funding UK companies or are they funding overseas companies? Surely if the manufacture of the bombs is still legal then in essence the banks do not think they are doing anything wrong? I am sure they fund weapons which the British Military are using without people worrying too much about it.

A, Thomas: Companies in the UK and every other country that has banned cluster bombs are no longer allowed to produce cluster bombs. But yes companies in other countries like the US are permitted to produce cluster bombs because they haven’t banned them. UK bank should not be financing those companies though, because that counts as assisting with production of cluster bombs and the treaty bans assistance with a prohibited act.
Q: Hi Thomas thanks for clearing that up. But if the treaty bans assistance with a prohibited act, does that mean that the UK Banks involvement is “illegal” in a criminal sense or just a moral/ethical sense? If it illegal then this should be a matter for the police/courts/parliament, but if it is unethical/immoral then in my mind that would include every person/company in the world financing/making/supplying/using weapons of any kind!
A, Thomas: Hi Alan, I understand your point! There is unfortunately a legal grey area here. But the government has said that the UK law prohibits direct investment in cluster munition production. The indirect investment is the grey area. This is why we need the government to develop a code of conduct to tighten up practice.

Q: Is the main reason for the bank’s involvement in the funding of cluster bombs one driven by profits? Why are they so profitable? Surely there must be alternative investments that would be just as profitable?

A, Thomas: Hi Eleanor, unfortunately the arms industry is a very lucrative business for everyone in involved, so yes it is driven by profits. But the reality is that cluster bombs are a weapon of the past not the future and even companies in the US (which is outside the treaty) are moving away from producing them. So it won’t be profitable for very long! And as you say, there are plenty of good alternative investments – look at the Cooperative Bank’s work on ethical investments.

Q: As a friend said the other day, we need to target the manufacturers. And ultimately the customers. Get to the source! Because you’ll never stop the bankers. They’ll only find cleverer ways, their legal dept. will seek out loopholes and the government doesn’t have the balls to enforce what most of us want to happen…

A, Verity: To ultimately stop the entire practice – which is what we want, we will be approaching the UK government to work with industry to write a code of conduct that stops all forms of indirect financing of this trade.

Q: Are there any other banks involved in these types of investments? I’m willing to bet RBS aren’t the only ones. Is this revelation part of a much bigger picture?

A, Verity: Hi Benji, some of the banks involved include Barclays, RBS and Lloyds, you can see the full report which has a hall of fame and a hall of shame here http://www.stopexplosiveinvestments.org/report’. The report is based on vigorous research of the banks finances. The report was put together by members of the Cluster Munitions Coalition (which Amnesty is also part of).

Q: Hi Verity and Thomas, Why are some countries continuing to make cluster bombs despite the ban?

A, Thomas: Hi Richard, in general, since most of the ban on cluster bombs in 2008, the trend is definitely moving away from production of these weapons. But there are still some countries that are holding out and producing. The arguments they give are usually around their national security or commercial interests. We are pretty sure though that cluster bombs are going to go the way of landmines: not every country has joined the 1997 landmine ban, but the use, production and transfer has almost entirely dried up. That’s because the weapons are stigmatised and a global norm has taken root.

Q: Does this mean that UK banks financing production in the USA are acting illegally? What about if their headquarters is based in the USA, or any other country for that matter?

A, Verity: It’s certainly the case that the funding and financial services which the RBS Group provides do not directly contravene the Convention.
The Convention prohibits assistance in the production of cluster munitions. To ban a weapon because of the humanitarian harm they cause, but to still allow for investments in their production is not morally acceptable. This goes for both direct as indirect investment. The UK law banning the production and trade of these weapons contains a loophole, because it would allow for indirect financing such as the provision of general loans and other banking and investment services for the companies that make these weapons. Amnesty International considers this to be a very serious loophole which can enable companies which have the capacity to make cluster bombs to carry on being funded by banks without running the risk of breaking the law. This runs the risk of making a mockery of UK law and the global Convention banning these weapons.
In the Campaigns view, if you provide money to producing companies, you are assisting and facilitating the production of cluster munitons.
A, Thomas: Hi Josh, unfortunately this is a bit of a legal grey area. We believe that UK banks funding the production of cluster bombs is prohibited under the treaty. Cluster munitions are also listed as prohibited items in the UK’s export legislation, which is another reason why banks in the UK should not be involved in financing them. But beyond the law, we want to get banks to realise that there is a brand risk for them here as well and that is why many of the banks have been responding to our efforts with new policies.
Q: [Could you] use the freedom of information act to find out if it is prohibited?
A, Thomas: Hi Josh, I am a fan of freedom of information requests too! We used them a lot during the cluster bomb ban process in the UK. But the government has made it clear that directly financing the production of cluster bombs is prohibited. It is the indirect financing of companies that is the grey area. And that is why we need the UK government to tighten up practice by introducing a code of conduct. I think it would be entirely reasonable to put in an FOI on what practical steps the government has taken to prevent indirect investment in cluster munitions since coming into office.

Q: What action is being taken apart from this wall-posting session? Any demonstrations planned, etc.?

A, Verity: Hi Szymon, sure – this is an opportunity for people to find out more but it’s part of a much larger campaign! Over 10,000 people have written to the Chief Exec of RBS so far – you can do this here www.amnesty.org.uk/rbs
We’re also gearing up to launch an advertising campaign to expose their involvement with companies that produce cluster bombs – you can donate towards this campaign here and see what we are planning.
A, Thomas: To get involved with the cluster bomb campaign in the UK you can write to me at thomas@article36.org. There are no big events happening in the UK in the near future, but I will make sure we keep you posted on any plans we have. In the bigger picture, the UK has actually been pretty good on cluster bombs since it signed the treaty in Oslo in 2008, we just need them to tighten up banks’ practice of indirectly investing in cluster bomb producers.

Q: Are you aware of what the take-up has been on the campaign so far ? I’ve been aware of the text to donate ads (including on FB) , but have you received much feedback either from AI members or the general public ? If so , supportive of the campaign or otherwise?

A, Verity: Over 10,000 people have taken email action to the Chief Exec of RBS in the last week. We’re halfway towards our fundraising target for the advertising campaign too. Feedback from supporters has been positive with lots of good ideas for future action that we’;re looking at for future use. We’ve had some negative feedback too, some people saying that we’re going to cause another financial crisis and should leave the banks alone.

Q: Hi there! Is it not possible to get these companies/banks on any human rights violation, or a code of practice on irresponsible/harmful investment? Should we therefore not be targeting the UK govt. to man up!?

A, Verity: good point! We are hoping to work with UK Gov and the banks to stamp out any funding of cluster bombs. The campaign hope to lead a negotiation process with the banks and the UK government to improve current legislation. We are also working worldwide as part of the International campaign to ban cluster bombs to get more countries– to sign up to the convention.
A, Thomas: absolutely right, we are calling on the UK to put in place a code of conduct to prevent all investments in cluster bombs. The previous government said it would do this but nothing has happened since the current government came to power.

Amnesty International UK: Thank you everyone for a great first live Q&A! We hope you’ve found it as interesting as we have. Verity and Thomas – any final comments you’d like to make to close our chat?

A, Verity: Thanks everyone for taking part – campaigns are successful when ordinary people come together to change something they care about. Clusterbombs are horrific weapons, banned under UK and International law – let’s stop any UK bank being involved with companies that still produce them. I look forward to working with you all on this.
A, Thomas: Thanks everyone for your posts and comments, the cluster bomb campaign is a testimony to the fact that with a little bit of organisation people can overcome really powerful forces to make positive change. And thanks to Amnesty and all Amnesty supporters for all the work you are doing!

You can join our cluster bombs campaign by calling on RBS to stop investing in cluster bomb manufacturers, and by helping us fund an ad to publicly shame them.

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