Barclays, Standard Chartered under fire from African environmentalists

By Andrei Skvarsky.

Barclays and Standard Chartered last week had their London headquarters picketed by demonstrators protesting against the two British banks’ alleged funding of a Kenyan company accused of environmental and other crimes.

Activists claim that 18,000 acres (about 7,280 hectares) of pristine rainforest in Uganda was cut down to make room for an oil palm plantation owned by consumer goods company Bidco Africa.

Bidco has also “grabbed land from over 100 smallholder farmers”, Dakar-headquartered newswire APO quoted Bidco Truth Coalition, an African activist alliance, as saying.

Bidco Truth Coalition also accuses Bidco of multiple human rights, labour and tax offences.

The alliance claimed that, by allegedly doing business with Bidco, Barclays and Standard Chartered departed from their commitments as members of the Banking Environment Initiative (BEI), an 11-bank association which is based at Britain’s Cambridge University and has the declared mission “to lead the banking industry in collectively directing capital towards environmentally and socially sustainable economic development”.

In 2004 the World Bank pulled out of a Bidco project in Uganda, accusing the company of violating the international financial institution’s anti-deforestation policies, APO said.

APO cited Bidco as stating publicly that it does business with Barclays, Standard Chartered, Citibank, Equity Bank and Kenya Commercial Bank.

Bidco, which is headquartered in Thika, a town 42 kilometres (26 miles) from Nairobi, denied all the accusations. Its chief executive branded Bidco Truth Coalition’s action against the company as an attempt at extortion.

“These guys are just bodies for hire,” APO quoted Vimal Shah as saying in a statement. “At one point they asked for $500,000 to stop the harassment and we said no and so they have kept coming.”

“No forests were taken [down] in Uganda, there have been four independent Environmental Impact Assessments done and they all give the project a clean bill of health,” Shah said.

“On the question of land, out of 9,000 hectares [22.240 acres] acquired for the project, there is only one dispute with one farmer who was a squatter on someone’s land and the case is in court.”

Bidco also denied any human rights, labour and tax offences.

Bidco Truth Coalition responded to Shah’s counter-attack with a strong-worded statement, giving the lie to his allegations and citing a large amount of information heavily implicating Bidco.

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