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ING, the largest private financial institution in the Benelux countries, and the 11th largest in the world, has decided to no longer invest in companies producing controversial weapons. The types of weapons excluded by ING are: anti-personnel mines, cluster bombs, depleted uranium weapons, biological, chemical and nuclear weapons. Netwerk Vlaanderen, Forum voor Vredesactie, For Mother Earth and Vrede have been campaigning since 2003 for an end to investments of Belgian banks in the arms trade. Their campaign “My Money. Clear Conscience?” has put pressure on ING to make this important step in the direction of a peaceful investment policy.
The weapons systems from which ING is disinvesting are indeed controversial. They make no distinction between military and civilian targets, and their use causes disproportionate suffering.
Cluster bombs have been responsible over the past decades for thousands of civilian casualties, often years after the end of the conflict in which they are deployed. They were extensively used in Yugoslavia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq.
Landmines are dirty weapons. Every year there are between 15,000 and 20,000 new victims caused by landmines. In more than 75% of the world, landmines have been declared illegal.
Nuclear Weapons are the most destructive weapons ever developed. These weapons of mass destruction continue to threaten the whole world. Despite signing treaties that commit them to disarm, the nuclear powers continue to modernise their arsenals.
Uranium weapons have been used in armed conflicts over the last 15 years, despite the fact that they are chemically toxic and radioactive. Even after the end of the conflict in which they are used, they cause serious health problems for soldiers and civilians.
ING adopts a stricter weapon policy
ING has decided to implement strict criteria for defence-oriented companies involved in the production, maintenance, or sale of these controversial weapons. ING will no longer finance these companies, and will no longer make its own direct investments in these companies. Indirect investments are still permitted. For example, investors will still be able to purchase investment funds from ING, including shares from these companies.
Big companies in the spotlight
In a report published in early 2004, Netwerk Vlaanderen revealed that AXA, DEXIA, Fortis, ING and KBC all invested in producers of these controversial weapons, including some of the largest arms companies in the world. Companies that Netwerk Vlaanderen believes that ING should disinvest from include ATK, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Singapore Technologies Engineering and General Dynamics. ATK is the most important ammunition supplier for the US army, and is involved in the production of uranium weapons and cluster bombs. Lockheed Martin is the largest arms producer in the world, and produces nuclear weapons and cluster bombs, amongst other weapon systems. This new policy should lead to ING abandoning direct links with some of the largest arms companies in the world.
Important step, but some reservations
Netwerk Vlaanderen, Forum voor Vredesactie, For Mother Earth and Vrede applaud the step that ING has made, and hope that the other bank groups will follow this example. After KBC, which last year withdrew from a number of controversial weapon systems, ING is the second bank group to take a clear standpoint on this issue.
There are still some important omissions in the policy of ING. Netwerk Vlaanderen and its partners regret that this new policy is not valid for indirect investments made by ING. This means that producers of controversial weapons will not be removed from the investment funds that ING offers to its customers. For the customer that invests in ING funds, nothing has changed. Their money can still be invested in producers of these highly controversial weapon systems.
The new policy is clearly a step forward in the development of a peaceful investment policy. ING must now work on making this policy solid, strict and transparent. The organisations that have taken the initiative in the campaign “My money. Clear Conscience?” hope that in the future ING will apply this policy to indirect investments, and other weapon systems.