In November Anne, who has a Co-operative Bank account, drew our attention to the closure of the account of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) which she found very disturbing. The News reports that PSC has launched a legal case against the Co-operative Bank on the grounds of discrimination. Another 20 organisations working for Palestine – including a number of PSC branches – have also had their accounts closed or denied. Charities working in Cuba and Nicaragua have also had accounts closed, though no evidence of wrong-doing has been levelled at these account-holders.
Save Our Bank, which campaigns to make the Co-op Bank more ethical and co-operative, said the Bank’s statement left questions unanswered. “If the PSC did not have sufficient controls in place, what should groups wanting to support Palestinians do to ensure they meet the Co-op Bank’s standards?” it asked. “Given the urgent humanitarian needs in the Palestinian territories, the Co-op Bank needs to enable legitimate charities to make transfers.”
In an open letter, Save Our Bank called on the bank to reconsider its decision. “This is the first serious ethical misjudgement since the Bank has come under its new ownership. We call on the Bank to take urgent remedial action before it causes further damage to its credibility and undermines its claim to offer a genuine ethical alternative in the UK market”.
It also called on the Bank to work with affected organisations to overcome legal or regulatory obstacles: “The bank is saying it has regulatory obligations to make sure that when money is transferred to high risk locations it doesn’t get into the wrong hands. We can understand that may be an issue, but rather than telling account holders where the problem is or suggesting ways of fixing it, they’re just closing accounts. We want a bank with ethics to try harder than that . . . we believe the best way to challenge this is by sticking together and bringing pressure as a group. We say don’t get mad, get organised.”
The majority of shares in the Co-operative Bank were sold to private shareholders in 2013. In response, a group of customers, supported by Ethical Consumer magazine, formed the Save Our Bank Campaign and is setting up a customer union which will challenge the Bank on ethical issues such as this and has reached its crowdfunding target. The union will be a co-operative and it will be up to members to decide how best to protect the values of the Co-operative Bank.
Many concerned co-operators will be cheered by this development – so much more constructive than the analysis of John Wilson, director of Newcastle Business School who asserted in the news that the bank’s ethical message no longer ‘resonated’ with the public (not true as a letter in the latest issue of the news ably made clear) and that there should be no attempt to ‘resurrect’ it. His advice: merely ‘rediscover a customer focus’.
Campaigner Shaun Fensom said: “We believe ownership matters. Co-ops are a better, fairer and more democratic way of doing business. Along with most of our supporters, I want to see the Co-op Bank as a true co-operative, owned by its customers and employees.”