RBC to RAN: “we may indeed be able to have a productive discussion”

Written by Brant Olson

Topics: Finance, Oil

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An article from Patricia Best in this week’s Macleans magazine offers a peek into how RBC is responding to RAN’s campaign. Here’s a peek into how RAN is responding to RBC.

But first a note to set the record straight. RBC Spokeswoman Katherine Gay claims in the Macleans article that our research into RBC financing activity in the tar sands is “broken and distorted”, citing criticism from unnamed NGOs. Unless she considers Bloomberg to be a buch of crackpots, she has some explaining to do. Our deal-by-deal breakdown of loans reported by Bloomberg shows RBC to have issued served as lead arranger  for $14.3 billion (USD) in credit to companies operating in the tar sands since 2007 and earned more than $84 million (USD) in debt and equity underwriting fees (see updated details on these numbers here). Gay claims RBC has “less than $2 billion” invested in the tar sands. We’re still waiting on the math.

Now for a bit of background. With help from activists across Canada, RAN has been crashing the tar sands party at Canada’s biggest bank for the last year and a half. We leafleted, we made signs, we staged die-ins and we even appealed to the CEO’s wife with our “Please Help Us Mrs. Nixon” stunt. For most of that time, RBC gave us the cold shoulder. Then last month things changed.  We sent a letter to CEO Gord Nixon offering to “turn the page in the New Year” in exchange for RBC updating its human rights and the environmental standards. A quick reply from Nixon dismissed action on human rights but offered that “we may indeed be able to have a productive discussion” on new environmental standards for its lending in the tar sands.

Today we confirmed a meeting with the Bank’s COO Barbara Stymiest in late February. If basic issues like Indigenous rights stay off the table, we don’t anticipate any breakthroughs. But since she does have the power to make big changes at the bank we offered a “no surprises” agreement in return for the face-time.  We won’t be pulling any punches, but we also won’t be showing up to the bank’s branches and speaking events unannounced. At least not for the next few weeks.

Meantime, we’re eager to hear reactions to the article from all sides in the comments.

11 Comments For This Post I'd Love to Hear Yours!

  1. yasuni says:

    Great to see RAN has broken through the RBC’s culture of not caring about indigenous rights or the environment. Now that they have opened the door to negotiations please dont leave the plight of Canada’s Indigenous peoples off the table. This issue is too important to ignore!

  2. Helene Walsh says:

    So RBC is trying to split the ENGO/Indigenous movement. Don’t let it happen. Together we have a greater chance to improve the likes of RBC. Indigenous rights and environmental well being are integral issues.

  3. John says:

    Great work by RAN! I agree, human rights and indigenous rights can’t be separated from environmental rights. ‘Free, prior and informed consent’ must be incorporated into RBC’s financing decisions.
    With the Olympics and RBC’s annual shareholders meeting approaching I wonder if RBC is honestly willing to talk and change, or whether this is an attempt to control ‘bad’ publicity during these high profile events.

  4. Dave says:

    So what’s to prevent RBC from holding RAN at bay while the Olympics play out and the bank gets through its AGM and then not moving an inch at the meeting?

  5. Brant says:

    Good question Dave. We’ve only agreed to “no surprises” until the meeting. If we don’t see a breakthrough, we can certainly return to our hi-jinx-as-usual approach.

  6. Eryn says:

    Great article and great work being done by RAN! The dismissal of human and indigenous rights, PPIC, and complacence of accepting shared responsibility for the practices of businesses they finance make me feel that this meeting is a step in the right direction but I don’t expect any huge concessions.

    My concern is the growing opposition, awareness, and action against RBC by other groups and individuals(which is great!), which will most definitely occur in the coming weeks being labeled as RAN activities. A commitment from RAN groups for “no surprises”, doesn’t mean there wont’ be any.

  7. John says:

    Anyone have ideas/explanations for RBCs contrasting positions on ‘free, prior and informed consent, FPIC’, which they outright reject, compared to the apparent willingness to discuss their enviro. risk policy? Are enviro. risk policies easier to ‘water down’ then commitments to FPIC?

  8. Outstanding. I met someone with RAN at this 2010 Corporate Campaign leafleting action:


    The negative publicity in so mainstream a forum as Flickr adds a little pressure. I don’t belong to any activist organizations but, as a photojournalist and as a freelance documentary photographer, I have covered several. It’s great to see lines of communication opening, in this case. Well done.

    Good luck with the conversation and keep us informed.

    And thanks for the link!

  9. Adrian says:

    Awesome work, y’all. Keep up the heat!

    And I’m also glad, like Eryn, that RAN is demonstrating its principles by refusing to back down on demanding free, prior, and informed consent for Indigenous communities living near tar sands projects (rather that the ridiculously weak “free, prior, and informed *consultation*” that the industry currently uses as their standard. This is going to be the huge hurdle to overcome – a strong FPIC policy would rightfully give First Nations communities substantial power over tar sands projects, giving them a seat at the table to decide whether massively destructive tar sands mines will be built on their ancestral lands.

    I’m eager to see to what extent RBC is willing to do the right thing – but, as Brant says, as long as they keep FPIC off the table, RAN isn’t going to back down. (But sooner or later, RBC’s going to give in on FPIC – so they might as well do it sooner!)

  10. Jessica Klein says:

    As a long time environmentalist,I appreciate your work against the horrible tar sands developement!thanks for making the connection with RBC’s involvement in the tar sands.I will write a letter and try to have some influence as we have done some ethical investment with them.As well,we will be making a donation towards your tar sands work,sincerely,Jessica

Trackbacks For This Post

  1. The Understory » Getting to Maybe with RBC
  2. Over 170 People Tell RBC To Get Out of the Tar Sands! | RYSE

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