Yesterday, Rich Ricci, the appropriately-named chief executive of Barclays' corporate and investment arm, told the parliamentary commission on banking standards that the bank was thinking of pulling out of agricultural commodities trading.
With Barclays being the biggest UK player in food speculation, and among the top handful globally, we’ve certainly been making sure that that they feel the heat for their role in contributing to the food price spikes that spell hunger and poverty for the world’s poorest people.
In January, following our nomination, Barclays won the global Public Eye award for the world’s worst company as a result of their role on food speculation. In April, shareholders at their AGM were greeted by WDM campaigners dressed as eagles, and in September the bank hit the headlines when the Independent published figures based on our research estimating that the bank had made around half a billion from food speculation in the past two years. And since its launch earlier this month, over 45,000 people have watched our spoof video, ‘Barclays Speculate’ .
But before we break open the bubbly, what does this news really mean?
First of all, it’s clear that no decisions have been made yet. And a look at decisions taken by other European banks earlier in the year about reducing their involvement in food speculation gives us reason to temper our optimism: DeutscheBank attracted attention in March when the bank said it would not release any new exchange traded food speculation products – apparently leaving it open to continue existing ones or set up new products outside of regulated exchanges.
In April, German Deka Bank announced an end to its speculation on basic food stuffs – but continues its activities in other agricultural products such as cocoa and coffee, on which many producers and workers in the global south depend on for their livelihoods. In every case, any changes have been limited to agricultural products, leaving banks free to promote speculation on other important commodities such as industrial metals and importantly, oil – the price of which has a major impact on food prices.
As with other banks, it’s obvious that consideration of a decision is being driven by a desire to detoxify Barclays’ image, rather than any acknowledgement of the massive human consequences of its activities. Once the media spotlight has shifted, any commitment that is made is free to be quietly dropped…
That’s why we and our allies across Europe are calling for tough regulation of speculation on food and other commodities – including limits on traders’ involvement in the market. We’ve come a long way in the last year in making sure that the proposed legislation includes these limits and avoids countries avoiding introducing tough new rules through dodgy self-regulation. But we need to keep the pressure up to remove the last loopholes and stop it being watered down at the last minute by heavy industry lobbying. Join the campaign today.