There was mayhem at the Barclays Sheffield branch last Monday (14th November).
Dressed as cleaners, many in drag, complete with mops, buckets sponges and brushes the “Dirty Scrubbers” from Extinction Rebellion arrived to give the bank a spring clean. As tunes such as “Carwash” by Rose Royce, “Stayin Alive” by the Bee Gees and “I want to break free” by Queen blared out from the pa, the Dirty Scrubbers strutted their stuff using mops and brushes as air guitars while cleaning the windows and dusting the furniture. Large crowds gathered in amazement and took away leaflets about the bank’s dirty dealing and some even joined in the dancing!
Why target Barclays? Extinction Rebellion says that their investments are speeding us down the road to climate catastrophe. And the Palestine Solidarity Group say their investments support the repression of the Palestinian people.
Barclays are the UK’s and Europe’s largest financier of fossil fuels. Since 2021, when the International Energy Agency concluded there could be no new oil, gas or coal development if the world was to reach net zero by 2050, Barclays has invested $19.583 billion in fossil fuels. Since the Paris Climate Agreement in 2016, their total investment in fossil fuels is $144.897 billion.
Extinction Rebellion co-founder Gail Bradbrook said: “Today hundreds of people staged an intervention on Barclays, sending a message to the high street bank that with protests taking place at over 100 of their branches they are rapidly losing the social licence to do business in towns and cities of the UK.
“It’s high time that Barclays recognised the destructive role they are playing as Europe’s largest financier of fossil fuels and changed course.”
“We want Barclays to stop funding nature-destroying projects and more than that we want them to show leadership. We ask them to publicly denounce an economic system geared towards the destruction of the planet, we want them to admit in public what bankers tell us in private – that they aren’t changing fast enough because the current system incentivises harmful behaviour.”
The UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, recently warned, “We are on a highway to climate hell with our foot still on the accelerator.” This summer the UK recorded its hottest-ever temperature, and there were three times the usual number of wildfires. In April Guterres indicated for the first time those he considers responsible for the worsening climate saying, “some government and business leaders are saying one thing – but doing another. Simply put, they are lying.”
Extinction Rebellion, along with other groups, is calling for Barclays to end all investment in fossil fuel expansion. In March 2020 Greenpeace activists shut down nearly 100 Barclays branches in protest against the bank’s continued multi-billion dollar support for fossil fuels.
But that’s not the only reason why people are upset with Barclays. They are also investing in Israel’s violent repression of the Palestinian people.
Armed violence is at the heart of Israel’s apartheid regime. Palestinians live under the threat of lethal violence and detention, home demolitions and forcible transfer, and intrusive surveillance of all areas of their lives.
Countries like the UK trade in arms with Israel, whilst corporations like Barclays invest in these weapons. Barclays provides billions of pounds worth of investment and loans to arms companies selling weapons and military technology to Israel.
Barclays owns shares worth over £1.3 billion in companies supplying Israel with weapons used against the Palestinians. In addition, Barclays provides these companies with over £4 billion worth of loans and other financial services.
Elbit Systems is Israel’s largest private arms company. It supplies 85% of the drones used by the Israeli army. These have been used in Israel’s deadly bombardment of the besieged Gaza Strip. Elbit has also been associated with the production of cluster munitions which are banned under international law.
Sheffield’s Tadhamon Singers (which is Arabic for Solidarity) recently went to Palestine and saw at first-hand how repressive the Israeli regime is. They sang their songs at cultural centres, in the shadow of the infamous apartheid wall, in refugee camps and at checkpoints.
Steph Howlett, a member of the group said “The impact of the illegal occupation on children was particularly distressing. The Israeli army regularly invades the refugee camps, and we saw video footage of soldiers arresting terrified children as young as 8 or 9, throwing teargas into a children’s playground with the children running in panic in all directions, and pouring into people’s houses shouting in the middle of the night, shining lights into the faces of children who are deeply traumatised by these experiences. Two members of the group witnessed an Israeli sniper shooting at children in the Aida refugee camp.
It is abhorrent to know that Barclays’ finance supports the companies making this repression possible”
Meanwhile, Sheffield City Council has decided to continue banking with Barclays for another five years. Officers put the contract out to tender and three applications were received. Barclays won the contract by scoring highest on price and quality, despite the Council’s so-called “Ethical Procurement Policy”. This demands that suppliers committing acts of “Grave Misconduct” should be excluded. Surely fueling climate breakdown and arming the repressive regime in Israel should count as “Grave Misconduct”?