This is a response to an article in The Times by Stephen Hester this week. The Times did not publish the letter. Times’s online version is subscriber only, unfortunately.

Stephen Hester says today (13 July) in The Times’s Opinion, page 20, that “We (Royal Bank of Scotland) are committed to serving the public interest.” As the chief executive of a bank that is more than 80% owned by the public, he is under an obligation to do so. RBS should be considering the public interest in its widest, by which we mean global, sense, and take account of the impacts decisions made by RBS are having on communities in Canada, Appalachia and India.

Mr Hester says that at their best the bank can “help young families to buy their first homes and help small businesses to start up and grow.” Might we remind Mr Hester of what his bank actually does at its worst?

Exploitation of tar sands in the Alberta region of Canada has been the subject of international criticism for its negative impact on climate change, Canadian ecosystems and the indigenous communities that live in the region. RBS has been involved in providing loans worth nearly £5bn in the last three years to companies carrying out highly controversial ‘tar sands’ mining in Canada.

Vedanta Resources, a UK mining company, have been given permission by the Indian government to create a bauxite mine at the top of a mountain sacred to the Dongria Kondh tribe, and to expand their aluminium refinery at the foot of the hills. If the mine goes ahead, it will threaten the local people’s health, livelihoods and identity as a tribe. RBS have given financial advice to Sterlite, a subsidiary of Vedanta, along with credit letters worth £60m.

We would certainly agree with Mr Hester that “As we refocus on how banks can serve the public interest, we must all show that banks need to change.” We would suggest his bank could take the lead by changing their investment practices and rather than investing our money in companies with questionable policies intent on dirty projects that damage the environment and threaten peoples human rights, they should instead prioritise investments that will lead us all to a brighter, cleaner, greener future, where the public interest is served in all we do.

Yours faithfully,
Juliet Swann, Head of Projects and Campaigns, Friends of the Earth Scotland
Johan Frijns, BankTrack
Ian Leggett, Director, People & Planet