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Finance for war

Values-based banks reveal the global financial industry's ‘disturbing role' in financing weapons and war
Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod
Somalian Soldier with a machine gun

A new report, Finance for War. Finance for Peace emphasises the critical role of the global financial sector in facilitating military conflicts, with at least $1 trillion invested in the arms industry between 2020 and 2022.
The report has been at launched at the annual summit of the Global Alliance for Banking on Values (GABV) in Milan, a network of inclusive and sustainable banks who stand firm against financing arms production or trade.

The GABV also issued a powerful ‘Statement for Peace,’ condemning violence and urging mainstream financial institutions to divest from the arms sector and not make profits with it.

Arms investments

The report, commissioned by Fondazione Finanza Etica and GABV and produced by Berlin-based consultancy Merian Research, exposes that over $959 billion is being used by financial institutions globally to support arms production and trade.

Of this amount, nearly half a trillion dollars, constituting more than half of the total investment, is contributed by the financial sector in the United States, with an additional $79 billion originating from the top 10 European investors.

The 15 largest European banks alone invest EUR 87.72 billion in arms companies, according to a report by the NGO PAX.

Lack of transparency

The numbers analysed in the report are a a conservative estimation of the total global financing of weapons.

The information has been retrieved from reputable and well-known sources, but the report states the challenges in obtaining comprehensive data due to the lack of transparency in that field.

There is no official database compiling all investments, loans and services from global financial institutions in the arms industry.

‘This report aims to scrutinise the financial sector’s involvement in the production and trade of weapons used in large-scale conflicts, comparing the policies and practices of mainstream banks with those of values-based ethical banks.’

Merian Research, author of the report

The war business

The report also highlights the surge in arms manufacturers’ shares following conflicts in Ukraine in 2022 and Palestine in 2023, illustrating the financial incentives behind such conflicts.

A recent analysis by the Financial Times revealed record levels of new armament orders in 2022 and the first half of 2023, leading to substantial increases in stock indices related to the aerospace and defence sector.
And the Military Balance 2024, by the International Institute of Strategic Studies, showed that global defence spending grew by 9% to a record $2.2 trillion – driven, in part by NATO member states boosting budgets in response to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.

Weapons investments unsustainable

The report Finance for War. Finance for Peace underscores that while the exclusion of the armaments sector is common among many investment funds claiming to be ‘sustainable,’ some financial institutions are now reconsidering their investment policies following the war in Ukraine.

In November 2023, EU defence ministers approved a joint declaration advocating for the inclusion of the arms industry in ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) investment frameworks.
In contrast, the vision of values-based banking, represented by the GABV, stands firm against financing arms production or trade.

The 71 GABV member banks have no material exposure to the arms industry, most of them (73%) adopting explicit policies to exclude weapons of any kind from loans and investments.

The Milan Declaration

In conjunction with the report launch, the GABV presented the Milan Declaration: A Statement for Peace, urging financial institutions to divest from the arms industry, and rejecting that financing of arms and armaments meet any definition of sustainable financing.

According to Martin Rohner, executive director of the GABV: ‘Peace is a precondition for financing positive social and environmental change. That’s why financing the arms industry is at odds with any definition of sustainable finance. And it’s why the values-based banking movement have chosen not to finance arms. We call on the financial industry to stop fuelling the production of, and trade in, weapons and arms. And let’s start to all profit from peace, not war.’
With this statement, the GABV ‘undertakes to continue and intensify its efforts to promote peace, in all its forms, and calls on financial institutions everywhere to follow its lead and divest from the arms industry that propagates conflicts across the globe.

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