By: Rainforest Action Network
Brianna Cayo Cotter, 1(415) 305-1943
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Today, socially responsible investors and a broad spectrum of environmental and human rights advocates protested Wells Fargo’s socially and environmentally destructive investments at the company’s annual general meeting (AGM) of shareholders in San Francisco. Protesters outside the meeting used giant puppets and banners to highlight Wells Fargo’s bad investments in oil and coal companies infamous for environmental destruction and human rights abuses and bad practices like predatory lending in poor communities. Ethical shareholders inside the meeting called on Wells Fargo to follow the lead of their peers in the financial sector and stop investing in destructive oil, coal, logging, and mining operations and adopt a comprehensive policy which meets industry best practices on the environment and human rights.
With $435 billion in assets and over 23 million customers, Wells Fargo is the largest US-based bank still operating without comprehensive modern guidelines to govern its investment practices and corporate conduct on a broad range of urgent environmental and social issues. Case studies on DirtyMoney.org show how Wells Fargo supports radical extraction practices like clear-cutting forests and leveling mountaintops, often on public land for private profit, from Ecuador to Alaska to West Virginia.
Despite persistent calls from citizen action groups, Wells Fargo has refused to incorporate new industry best practices on the environment, instead substituting PR and greenwash for action. While the company released a 10-point environmental plan significantly weaker than the industry’s best and riddled with loopholes, it has shown its true colors by investing millions of dollars in Massey Energy, a company currently under fire for destroying Appalachian communities with mountaintop coal removal, and funding an industry front group that is trying to open up roadless areas in Alaska’s valuable Tongass National Forest.
Industry peers began to adopt environmental policies in 2003 to address the pressing issues of climate change, ecosystem preservation, and human rights violations. Citigroup, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, and Goldman Sachs have all become early adapters to a sustainable economics model being reflected in countries around the world. Policies include innovative approaches including a designation of no-go zones for the world’s most vulnerable ecosystems, carbon accounting and commitments to reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, and advocating for federal regulation on climate change.
The activities surrounding Wells Fargo’s AGM today follow a week of outdoor advertisements and actions. Thousands of posters reading Wells Fargo: Lootin’ and Pollutin’ Since 1852 began appearing throughout the Bay Area last Monday. Additionally, activists organized Earth Day protests on Saturday in Western states where Wells Fargo operates to demand that Wells Fargo start respecting human rights, indigenous communities, and the environment.
Wells Fargo in Coal Country
Wells Fargo invests hundreds of millions of dollars in rogue coal companies engaged in the wholesale decimation of Appalachian communities and ecosystems through the reckless mining practice known as mountaintop removal. Instead of financing clean, sustainable energy sources for the 21st century, Wells Fargo is bankrolling 19th century operations that produce electricity in the most polluting, most destructive ways possible. This includes playing a part in a $130 million loan deal [i] to Massey Energy, a brutally anti-union mining giant engaged in mountain-top removal in West Virginia, Kentucky, and Virginia (documentation available at dirtymoney.org). Massey has been the target of community protests throughout the region as a result of its destructive practices, which includes placing a waste sludge dam and coal silo adjacent to Marsh Fork Elementary School. Surveys of children show alarmingly high rates of respiratory illness, most probably because of the substantial coal dust emitted from the structure.
Wells Fargo and Human Rights Abuses in Peru
Wells Fargo has backed Burlington Resources -recently acquired by ConocoPhillips-, a Houston-based oil company with plans to explore for oil in three highly controversial oil concessions in remote Amazon regions of Ecuador and Peru. These concessions were carved out of the traditional territories of four indigenous nations: the Shuar, Achuar, Kichwa, and Zâ’para’ despite the strong community opposition to oil development on their lands. Wells Fargo longstanding business relationship with Burlington includes loans [ii], help facilitating an investment transaction [iii], and including millions of dollars of stock in the company in its mutual funds [iv]. Despite the controversy and human rights abuses associated with Burlington’s pursuit of Amazon oil, Wells Fargo continues to do business with this rogue corporation.
Wells Fargo Clearcutting Paradise- The Tongass
The Tongass is the largest tract of intact temperate rainforest in the world, with large areas of old-growth and undisturbed watersheds. It is North America’s last refuge for ancient coastal tree species, and provides habitat for rare and endangered species, such as brown bears, bald eagles, wolves, goshawks and all five Pacific salmon species.
Typically out of step with modern values, Wells Fargo financed a mill that increased demand for logging in the Tongass [v] . Meanwhile, Wells Fargo has sponsored an industry front group that advocates logging in roadless areas in articles such as one titled “Tongass Endangered?” that flies in the face of science and national public opinion [vi] .
"Through their financial deals with Massey Energy, Wells Fargo is enabling the destruction of my homeland and culture through mountaintop removal coal mining” said Julia Bonds, a resident of Coal River Valley, WV, and theoutreach coordinator at Coal River Mountain Watch and winner of the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize. “You can't wash the blood off themoney."
“Instead of joining the rest of the banking industry by taking
responsibility for the destructive impact of its investments, Wells Fargo remains committed to a “Wild West” world of irresponsible and exploitative lending practices better suited to the 19th century than to the present”said Ilyse Hogue, Global Finance Campaign Director at the Rainforest Action Network. “Responding to real environmental and human rights abuses will take much more than a PR campaign”.
“Concerned people throughout the Western United States are realizing the role that banking giant Wells Fargo plays in financing environmentally destructive and socially abusive projects around the world and are joining as Dirty Money Deputies to put an end to Wells' Lootin' and Pollutin'," said Scott Parkin, Organizer on the Global Finance Campaign at the Rainforest Action Network.
"Without our consent, our land has been auctioned off and divided up like a piece of bread to oil companies like Burlington Resources,” statedMarlon Santi, legal coordinator of the Kichwa community of Sarayaku. “But to us our land can not be sold-- it is like a mother to us. We've resisted oil extraction for years, and will continue doing so. Burlington, what part of no don't you understand? As a shareholder of the Amazon, Burlington needs to leave the oil blocks they obtained from the Ecuadorian government."
For more information visit DirtyMoney.org.
[i] Wells Fargo Foothill, LLC served as Co-Syndication Agent for a $130 million asset-based revolving credit facility on January 20th, 2004(source: Massey Energy 8-K filed January 30th, 2004)
[ii] Wells Fargo Brokerage Services, LLC purchased over $20 million of notes offered by Burlington Resources Finance Company (source: Burlington Resources Inc. S-4 filed on April 29, 2002)
[iii] See www.wfenergyadvisors.com/engagements.html
[iv] At the time of the ConocoPhillips acquisition, investments in Burlington valued at over $27 million represented the largest holding (as % of net assets as of 03-31-2006) in the Wells Fargo Advantage Common Stock Mutual Fund, according to the company’s website, www.wellsfargoadvantagefunds.com.
[v] Wells Fargo subsidiary Foothill Capital Corp. secured loans made in October, 1999 to Gateway Forest Products, Inc., as it restarted a mill at Ward Cove, Alaska (sources: Alaska Business Monthly: Dec, 1999 and Alaska Uniform Commercial Code Reports, available at
[vi] Wells Fargo sponsored an edition of the “Resource Review” a publication of the pro-industry Resource Development Council, Inc., featuring a report entitled Tongass endangered? Facts don’t support claim by environmental groups.