Are Canadians Banking on the Bomb?

By Erin Hunt

Nuclear weapons can destroy cities; nuclear weapons are able to kill thousands of people in the blink of an eye; there have been dozens of near misses and nuclear accidents over the past 70 years; nuclear weapons can destroy life as we know it. Nine countries have nuclear weapons and they are currently working to modernize their nuclear arsenals. There are approximately 15,000 nuclear weapons sitting in missile silos, submarines and warehouses around the world.

Nuclear weapons are now illegal thanks to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons but the nine nuclear armed states and their allies including Canada have not yet joined. The Treaty offers hope and it also provides us with a tool for action. We all must take action against nuclear weapons because the potential devastation is unacceptable.

In the face of the sheer scale of the horror nuclear weapons have caused in the past and of the risks they pose to our future, sometimes it can be hard to see how one person could make a difference.

The truth is everyone has a say in eliminating nuclear weapons and everyone can take concrete actions towards a world without nuclear weapons.

As a Canadian, one of the easiest ways to take action against nuclear weapons is to make sure that your money is not invested in their production.

Canadian financial institutions are investing in companies associated with nuclear weapon production, by providing financing to maintain, test, and modernize nuclear weapons. The money being used in those investments is yours.

In March 2018, Dutch peace organization PAX released the newest edition of the Don’t Bank on the Bomb report. Available online at www.dontbankonthebomb.com, the report outlines which financial institutions invest in 20 of the privately-owned companies most heavily involved in nuclear weapons production.

These 20 “red flag” companies are based in France, India, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States. They are involved in modernizing and producing key components for the nuclear arsenals of France, India, the United Kingdom and the United States. Government agencies maintain and modernize the nuclear arsenals of China, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Israel, Pakistan and Russia so these are not included in the report.

Welcome to the Hall of Shame

The report found that globally 329 financial institutions, including 13 Canadian financial institutions, made $US525 billion available to the 20 nuclear weapon producing companies between January 2014 and October 2017. These financial institutions are listed in a Hall of Shame.

In Canada, BMO Financial Group, Burgundy Asset Management, CI Financial, CIBC, Expert Develop­ment Canada, Letko Brosseau and Associates, Mackie Research Financial, Manulife Financial, Power Financial Corporation, Royal Bank of Canada, Scotiabank, Sun Life Financial and Toronto-Dominion (TD) Bank are all listed in the Hall of Shame.

The Don’t Bank on the Bomb report also lists financial institutions in the Hall of Fame who have comprehensive and publicly available policies preventing investments in nuclear weapon producers.

To qualify for the Hall of Fame, the financial institution’s policies must exclude all nuclear weapon associated companies, exclude all nuclear weapons activities, and apply to all the institutions products and services. Of the 22 financial institutions with policies that qualified for the Hall of Fame in 2018, none were Canadian.

There is also a Runners-Up category for financial institutions that have policies preventing investments in nuclear weapon producers but the policies have loopholes. Two Canadian institutions were among the 41 financial institutions with imperfect exclusion policies that are presented in the Runners-Up category. NEI lnvestments’ strong policy does not include all products and services so they are on the Runners-Up list. RBC can be found on both the Runners-Up list and the Hall of Shame because, although RBC has a policy to not provide financial services to companies manufacturing or trading in equipment or material for nuclear weapons, the policy does not exclude companies involved in nuclear weapons modernization nor does the policy cover asset management activities. These large loopholes allow for the investments in nuclear weapons producing companies which place RBC in the Hall of Shame.

The report is our key tool

The Don’t Bank on the Bomb report is a key tool in a global disinvestment campaign targeting nuclear weapons. Disinvestment has a history of being an effective way for citizens to end the production of weapons and other harmful products. From tobacco to fossil fuels, disinvestment campaigns have been seeing results.

The Stop Explosive Investments campaign run by PAX and the Cluster Munition Coalition, which targets producers of cluster munitions, has been wildly successful. All private companies producing cluster munitions in the United States have ceased production citing the lack of funding and the stigma against the banned weapons. One of those companies recently released a pamphlet urging the United States government to pivot away from the weapon because “there is broadly supported consensus among the world’s nations that CM does not belong in modern military arsenals.” It cites PAX’s work as part of this consensus.

Inspired by this success, the Don’t Bank on the Bomb campaign has nuclear weapons producers in its sights. The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons adds an additional incentive for financial institutions to divest from such companies.

Got a bank account? Join the Campaign

Everyone who has a bank account has a way to help dry up the financial resources needed to continue producing and modernizing nuclear wea­pons. Canadians who have bank accounts or investments with one of the Hall of Shame financial institutions have the ability to shape their bank’s policy. By writing to the bank, speaking to your financial advisor and personally disinvesting, it is possible for an individual to put pressure on nuclear weapons producers. No matter the size of your bank account or your investments if you tell them that you do not want your money being used to support these illegal and illegitimate weapons, you will be heard.

Canadian banks and financial institutions changed their policies regarding cluster munitions because they heard from their clients and they realized that providing financial services to cluster munition producers was too high a reputational risk. The same thing can be done with nuclear wea­pons. When Canadian financial institutions hear from their clients that investing in nuclear weapons producers is unacceptable, they will change their policies.

When financial institutions change their policies, the producers feel the heat—maybe not instantly, but the pressure builds over time. Disinvest­ing from nuclear weapons producers puts companies on the right side of history.

We are already starting to see the impact of ordinary people taking action. The 2018 Don’t Bank on the Bomb report had four more financial institutions in the Hall of Fame than the 2016 report. These improved policies can be linked to client action and the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

In addition, two of the world’s largest pension funds have divested from nuclear weapons producers putting over $US1500 billion out of reach of nuclear weapons producers. ABP, based in the Netherlands, is the fifth largest pension plan in the world and over the next year, they will eliminate access to their $500 billion asset pool for nuclear weapons producers. Changes to the Norwegian Govern­ment Pension Plan’s nuclear weapons policy will put another $1,037 billion out of reach. The Norwegian Government Pension Plan is the second largest pension plan in the world.

It is not only the financial sector that is making changes when it comes to the financing of nuclear weapons producers. In April 2018, the City of Ojai in California adopted a resolution declaring the city a nuclear weapon free zone and prohibits the city from engaging in “any new direct investments in businesses, funds, or financial services institutions that knowingly ­engage in work related to the production, transportation, storage, processing, use, or disposal of nuclear weapons or the components of nuclear weapons with no non-military applications.”

­As we approach the one-year anniversary of the Treaty on the Pro­hibition of Nuclear Weapons, it is time for Canadian financial institutions to join the rest of the world in saying no to nuclear weapons.

The authors of Don’t Bank on the Bomb said it best: “Financial institutions have a choice, either to contribute to the end of nuclear weapons, or to provide the financing that will allow nuclear weapons to end us.”

Erin Hunt is an activist working with Mines Action Canada in Ottawa.

Peace Magazine July-September 2018

Peace Magazine July-September 2018, page 6. Some rights reserved.

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