Barclays CEO Urged to Confront Slavery and Act on Climate

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Climate activist group Extinction Rebellion has called on Barclays Plc Chief Executive Officer Jes Staley to recognize the lender’s historic role in the slave trade and do more on climate change.

Barclays was yet to “fully disclose and apologize” for links to the 18th and 19th century trade, which has become topical amid Black Lives Matter protests in the U.K. and around the globe, according to the group. Protesters gathered outside the bank’s Canary Wharf headquarters on Monday holding banners that read ‘slavery’, ‘apartheid’ and ‘ecocide.’

“Barclays is presenting itself as a champion in the fight against modern-day slavery or people-trafficking -- which papers over its gruesome legacy without acknowledging its past,” Extinction Rebellion said in a letter sent to Staley on Monday seen by Bloomberg.

Anti-racism protests have forced the City of London to confront its past, with the acknowledgment that many of its historical figures made their fortunes on the back of slavery and colonial oppression. Lloyd’s of London and the Bank of England have both recently apologized for their connections to the trade.

David Barclay, one of Barclays’ original founders, was a “keen and committed advocate for abolition of the slave trade,” even as his bank then financed plantation mortgages, according to University College London’s Legacies of British Slave Ownership project.

While “we can’t change what’s gone before us,” the bank is committed to “do more to further foster our culture of inclusiveness, equality and diversity,” said a spokesperson for Barclays.

Extinction Rebellion is also again targeting Barclays for its fossil-fuel activities. The bank is the industry’s biggest backer in Europe and the largest globally, financing $85.2 billion in the three years to 2018, according to environmental group Rainforest Action Network. Climate protesters briefly interrupted the bank’s annual meeting last year.

“Phase out all existing cash flow, project and corporate finance to companies that are extracting fossil fuels or making investments in fossil fuel power plants and infrastructure,” Extinction Rebellion group said in the letter. “All financial services to the coal industry must stop immediately.”

The group had planned weeks of protests starting in late February, when it targeted a Barclays office in Northampton. Its plans were then derailed by the pandemic.

The bank’s commitment to be net-zero carbon by 2050 “was approved by 99.93% of our shareholders in May, and we are already taking action to implement it,” the Barclays spokesperson said Monday.

Earlier this year, finance leaders including BlackRock Inc.’s CEO Larry Fink and former Bank of England governor Mark Carney said firms must do more to tackle threats to the environment. JPMorgan Chase & Co. economists warned in January that a delayed policy response risks potential irreversible catastrophic outcomes and the loss of human lives.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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