The campaigners targeted ads in ten cities including London, Bristol and Glasgow using work from artists in a bid to expose what they call the banking giant’s “harmful impacts on the climate and communities globally”.
Other cities in the campaign were Sheffield, Leeds, Oxford, Swansea, Carmarthen and Birmingham.
“Advertising is a key mechanism for big banks to shore up their public image,” said Tona Merriman, from activist group Brandalism. “HSBC likes to position itself as a friendly high street bank through its marketing, but these artworks tell a much darker tale of human rights abuse facilitated by the bank’s activities.”
The campaign was a response to the HSBC “We are not an island” adverts following the bank’s announcement that it aimed to reduce its portfolio’s carbon emissions to zero by 2050 – which campaigners said lacked near-term targets.
The original ads “offered fake affection [and] a corporate cosiness, saying ‘You are London, You are Bristol’,” Merriman added. “But multinational banks are not communities. And our cities and towns are not HSBC. This campaign offers the public a right of reply to HSBC’s PR spin.”
Responding to a Greenpeace report in 2017 alleging HSC had financed deforestation initiatives in Indonesia, a spokesperson said in a statement:
In a statement at the time, a spokesman said: “HSBC’s policies prohibit the financing of operations that are illegal, damage high conservation value forest/landscaping or violate the rights of workers and local people.
“HSBC does not knowingly provide financial services which directly support palm oil companies which do not comply with our policy.
“We are not aware of any current instances where customers are alleged to be operating outside our policy and where we have not taken, or are not taking, appropriate action.”
Rudy Loewe, one of 15 artists whose work was used in Brandalism’s campaign, said: “The image I created reflects the resistance by local communities in Mozambique against climate colonialism. It’s important to remember that as HSBC attempts to brand itself as invested in local communities and ‘heroes’ during this critical moment, in reality they are complicit in the destruction of communities around the world.
Anabela Lemos, director of Ja! Mozambique working with communities resisting the gas industry, said: “When banks like HSBC invest in the gas industry in Mozambique, they are just as responsible as the extractive companies like Total, Eni and Exxon for the irreversibly destructive impact on communities.
“These companies are only able to construct this type of project, and step on thousands of communities, kicking them out of their homes and territories, destroying their livelihoods, their cultures, and their rights, and stealing their future because irresponsible financiers like HSBC make it possible.”
Brandalism’s “fossil bank” campaign will continue through autumn with a series of public information nights outlining the role of big banks in climate change, and its impact on vulnerable communities.
Earlier this year, HSBC said it was “strongly committed to playing our part in the transition to a low carbon economy and is an acknowledged market leader in sustainable finance.”
“HSBC recognises the role of the financial sector to address climate change which is why we have progressively tightened policies governing agricultural commodities, forestry, energy and mining.
A spokesperson added the bank “does not finance new coal mines, does not support companies that are materially dependent on coal mining and we have not provided project financing to new coal fired power plants since the release of our revised energy policy in 2018,“ it added.
The Big Issue has approached HSBC for further comment.
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