The risky business behind NAB’s bumper profits

General, Media Releases, World Finance & Trade Agreements article written on the 08 May 2014

NAB’s bumper $3.15 billion cash profit announced this morning comes days after an Oxfam report called on the bank to provide justice for families and communities who have lost land, homes and livelihoods because of land-grabbing practices by an NAB backed company in South East Asia.

Last week, Oxfam’s report, Banking on Shaky Ground – the big four banks and land grabs, found NAB has been funding Asian palm oil giant Wilmar – which has been linked to land grab allegations in Indonesia and Malaysia, since 2011. The NAB has lent more than $218 million to Wilmar, the world’s leading processor and trader of palm oil. 

“While today’s announcement of an 8.5 percent increase in cash profit suggest expansion overseas can be profitable, Oxfam’s report has investors asking whether there are further land grab surprises hiding in NAB’s overseas portfolio,” Oxfam Australia’s Director of Public Engagement Pam Anders said.

“Oxfam’s report outlined the significant financial risk associated with the NAB’s backing of any companies involved in land grabbing.

“If land is acquired without proper consent or payment, deals that the NAB is exposed to are at risk of being revoked, jeopardising the bank’s profits.

“Our evidence shows an NAB loan last year to the controversial palm oil giant Wilmar came after Newsweek had ranked Wilmar as the least environmentally sustainable company in the world for two years running. 

“The NAB prides itself on strong environmental policies, yet they do not seem to have applied in this case.  While Wilmar itself later moved to address land grabs, the NAB still hasn’t.”

 The NAB has declined to comment on its relationship with Wilmar due to “legal and confidentiality reasons” but stressed the bank “supports actions that promote better environmental and social outcomes for businesses and the communities in which they operate”.

“The response to our report from both the community and the investment sector has been overwhelmingly positive; it’s clear that the investment sector is very concerned about expansion into the Asia-Pacific without clear due diligence measures and governance frameworks in place that are actually practiced on the ground,” Ms Anders said.

 “Our report does raise serious questions – questions which the banks have so far failed to answer with anything other than platitudes about their commitment to sustainability.

 “What Oxfam and investors are looking for is decisive action similar to that taken by corporations like Coca-Cola, which has adopted a clearly laid out strategy to stamp out land grabbing in its supply chain. We are yet to see this from our big four banks.

 “NAB, along with Westpac, ANZ and the Commonwealth Bank, need to demonstrate Zero Tolerance for land grabbing.”

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