Oxfam has welcomed Westpac’s progress on the issue of land grabs, with the release of its new policy on financing of agribusiness.
Oxfam Australia Chief Executive Dr Helen Szoke said the new policy meant Westpac would not finance agribusiness companies that violated the rights of local communities, such as the right to free, prior and informed consent for land deals.
“Recognising the importance of all communities’ rights to provide free, prior and informed consent on land deals is a key part of safeguarding the rights to their land,” Dr Szoke said.
“We congratulate Westpac on taking this step, and encourage the other banks to follow suit.”
The release of Westpac’s policy comes six months after Oxfam released a report, Banking on Shaky Ground, which showed Australia’s big banks have backed companies involved in unfair land deals – often referred to as ‘land grabs’ – in the agriculture and forestry sectors.
The impacts on affected communities include food shortages, loss of livelihoods and contamination of local water.
The new Westpac policy covers companies that Westpac finances that grow, process, manufacture or distribute palm oil, soy and timber, and states that the bank won’t fund companies that negatively impact on important conservation forests or violate the rights of workers.
Dr Szoke said that whilst the policy was an important step, it did not address disclosure of Westpac’s exposure to land deals or redress for affected communities, which Oxfam emphasised are important to a Zero Tolerance for Land Grabs approach.
“Westpac has said it will review its other policies and frameworks relating to these areas, so there is still some way to go,” she said.
“To truly be transparent, Oxfam has also emphasised that the banks should disclose their exposure to land risk in the agriculture commodities industry, including the location and names of clients.
“It’s good to see that Westpac has clarified its financing links to agribusiness, working with the PNG Investment Promotion Authority to update official records last week to show that it no longer finances WTK Group in PNG, a company linked to land grabs.”
Dr Szoke said that following on from NAB’s announcement of its policy on improper land acquisitions last week, this policy by Westpac showed that banks were taking this issue seriously and were indeed capable of acting on land grabs.
“It’s important to recognise that companies can grow their business by working with communities, rather than against them,” she said.
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