Image shows a number of protesters bearing the Palestine flag outside Barclays in London

Since October 2023, campaigning on the Palestinian cause has skyrocketed. SIGWATCH data shows that the second most targeted industry, after the arms manufacturers themselves, was finance.  

Perhaps you’ve noticed some of the UK Barclays branches looking a bit worse for wear recently? If so, that’s most likely the handiwork of activist groups such as War on Want, Palestine Solidarity Campaign, and Campaign Against Arms Trade. The London Stock Exchange was also targeted earlier this year by Palestine Action, a direct action group known for their focus on exposing ‘British complicity with the colonisation of Palestine’. 

Outside of the UK, activists are naming and shaming financial institutions such as BNY Mellon, AXA, Royal Bank of Canada, TD Bank, BlackRock, Vanguard and others. In Canada, March 15th has been designated as the Day of Action to Shut Down Scotiabank to highlight its “war crime profiteering”.  This comes amid heightened attention on the Canadian Big Five banks for continued fossil fuel financing, with many university campuses seeing mass protests and campaigns for students to move their money elsewhere. 

Conversely, companies like the Norwegian Government Global Pension Fund, Danske Bank, and PGGM have been praised by activists for their handling of “their business relationships within the occupied territories”.   

Broadly, there are three themes dominating the nearly 150 actions targeting all industries since October: 

  • End of arms and ammunition sales to Israel 
  • Boycott of Israeli products 
  • Ending investments in “Israeli occupation and colonization” 

Risk analysis: Reputational and Operational 

Financial institutions are, by now, used to activist and consumer pressure on climate change and environmental issues. With this most recent wave of campaigning, activists are picking out the forgotten S of ESG and waving it around in financial institutions’ faces. 

In terms of desired impacts, campaigners are aiming to affect consumer perceptions of these organisations and effect customer losses through large-scale account switches. Switching your current account is not that difficult, and if NGO narratives make an impression on consumers, they might just turn elsewhere.  The idea is that this will pressure financial institutions to pass this risk along to the companies they invest in, either by applying (public or private) pressure to drive change or by divesting entirely.

A potential but serious side effect of this could be a heightened risk of employee rebellions within the targeted financial institutions themselves. Employee activism on social issues, particularly in North America, has been grabbing headlines for the past couple of years. An issue as prominent and polarising as the Israel-Palestine conflict could cause operational turmoil for senior leadership looking to chart a safe path through tricky terrain.  

Looking forwards 

SIGWATCH campaigning data shows that activity on the Israel-Palestine conflict is highly unlikely to die down any time soon. Even if a ceasefire is called, the complexity of the situation and strength of public feeling from both sides of the issue mean that we will be talking about this conflict for years to come. Any reliance on a “wait this out and it will all blow over” strategy would, therefore, be short-sighted.  

(Image courtesy: The Guardian

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