ING Bank is the parent company of various Dutch and foreign banks. Headquartered in Amsterdam in the Netherlands, ING is directly supervised by the European Central Bank (ECB). The ECB is an official EU institution at the heart of the Eurosystem as well as the Single Supervisory Mechanism (SSM) for banking supervision. ECB is responsible for the prudential supervision of credit institutions located in the euro area and participating non-euro area Member States, within the Single Supervisory Mechanism, which also comprises the national competent authorities. It thereby contributes to the safety and soundness of the banking system and the stability of the financial system within the EU and each participating Member State.
ING is one of the financial investors of SOCFIN, a multinational agro-industrial producer of palm oil and natural rubber operating in Africa and Asia. SOCFIN is controlled by the Belgian Fabri family (50.2 per cent of the shares) and the French Bolloré group (39 per cent of the shares). The group currently manages more than 180,000 ha of plantations. Their modus operandi has severally violated the Human Rights of the local populations while putting their environment at risk. SOCFIN is particularly accused of land grabbing in several countries and faces strong resistance from local populations. The living conditions of the residents of the group’s plantations are getting worse under increasing land acquisition by the corporation. The conflicts between SOCFIN and the local populations arising from the unbridled encroachment on their lands are exacerbated. Between 2010 and 2017, the size of land grabbed from Sierra Leone by SOCFIN has increased from 323,198ha to 402,344. SOCFIN has continued to exploit the terms of the tenancy agreements made without the knowledge or consent of the communities to deposes them of their lands.
Despite the dozens of local and international mobilizations, letters of interpellation and reports documenting the many issues raised with respect to the rights of residents, the group continues to ignore most of the problems and to refuse a dialogue with communities to resolve the conflicts.
More than two years ago, the NGOs in Belgium have engaged in a dialogue with ING about her financial services to SOCFIN. They brought to the attention of ING the above complaints against SOCFIN in order to find solutions. The NGOs have proposed to ING that further loan to SOCFIN should be discontinued until the outstanding conflicts on the ground are resolved. Unfortunately, ING has chosen to throw the proposition of the NGOs to the background of irrelevance. For the avoidance of doubt, ING has a well written environmental safety standard; however, the NGOs have wondered why the bank has chosen to look to the other way while SOCFIN violates her environmental and social risk management policy.
In March 2017 ING met with a delegation of communities affected by the activities of SOCFIN in Sierra Leone. ING then promised to pass on the information about the human rights abuses of SOCFIN to ING’s head office in the Netherlands as well as provide a response and action points for SOCFIN within a maximum of 6 weeks but ING is yet to act on its promise. Alternatively, ING decided to grant a new and fifth loan of 15 million with the aim of improving SOCFIN’s responsibility.
During the last meeting between ING and NGOs at the beginning of October 2018, ING showed no interest in all the information provided by NGOs about the Human and environmental Rights violations of SOCFIN.
It is therefore inadmissible to hear ING declare that SOCFIN has provided satisfactory responses to the bank’s questions with supporting evidence regarding environmental standards and that they have a good relationship. There is no evidence more convincing than the harsh experience of those who have lost their source of livelihood because land is all for them; families bonds have broken because they have lost the visible symbol of their bonds (land); some have lost their lives in depression. It is very shocking and heartbreaking to see how business corporations are motivated solely by their greed and interest. As long as their interests are assured, the harmful impact of their business activities on the ground is not their concern at all. It is hard to believe that this bank does not approve all these human rights violations that SOCFIN is accused of when there is enough evidence from the ground and other reliable sources.
It is time to stand up against ING’s toxic investments like the palm oil industry. It is unethical to keep financing companies such as SOCFIN, which clearly run counter to ING’s social and environmental commitments. In continuing to turn a deaf ear, ING might be engaging its corporate liability for serious human rights abuses in third world countries.
Who would like to hear that their money has largely contributed in the misery, the denial of a decent life to a multitude of people? Who would be honored with considerable interests brought back by their capital in a bank because people received unfair wages if not exploited? The search for survival, decent and fulfilled life is what we have in common as human beings and if we cannot know what the other needs to have, at least we know what we ourselves need and we know how we would feel if this was denied to us in any way or to our dear ones.
If ING has no power over the activities of its client companies, it has power to demand that they abide with the bank’s policies especially related to its social and environmental commitments. Banks have the power to decide on the purposes for which their money must be invested.
If EU banks are not working in the fulfillment of the ECB’s mission which is “to strive for the highest level of integrity, competence, efficiency and accountability”, the supervision is not up to its task or the EU is playing an accomplice with its banks in an organized greenwashing.
AEFJN Policy Officer
SOCFIN : bénéfices toujours en hausse… sauf pour les communautés locales: https://www.sosfaim.be/news/socfin-benefices-toujours-en-hausse-sauf-pour-les-communautes-locales/
 Meetings of NGOs and ING in Brussels
 Amnesty international: report 2016; Greenpeace International August 2018: Final countdown. Now or never to reform the palm oil industry (human rights and environmental impacts of palm oil plantations).