“Financial institutions should end investments in companies active in illegal settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories. People’s pensions and savings cannot be invested in companies that run a high risk of contributing to human rights violations,” said Thomas van Gool, Israel-Palestine expert at peace organisation PAX.
Today the international “Don’t Buy Into Occupation” coalition, consisting of 25 European and Palestinian NGOs presents its research. Dutch members of the coalition are PAX, BankTrack and The Rights Forum. Fourteen Dutch financial institutions are invested in companies that play an active role in the construction and expansion of illegal settlements in occupied Palestinian territory. The researchers conclude that through these financial relationships, – consisting of loans, shares and bonds – investors run a substantial risk of involvement in war crimes and systematic human rights violations. ING is the largest Dutch investor with 6.6 billion euro, followed by pension funds ABP and PFZW.
Thomas van Gool: “That Dutch financial institutions continue to invest people’s savings and pension money in companies active in illegal settlements while we see human rights violations on the West Bank increasing by the day is inexplicable. Financial institutions must take responsibility to end their involvement with these violations, by actively pushing companies to stop their activities, or by divestment.”
Corporate activities in the illegal settlements include infrastructural projects, telecommunication and the tourist industry, to name but a few sectors. During the period under review, 776 European banks, pension funds, insurers and asset managers collectively invested over 280 billion euro in 51 companies ranging from Israeli banks, supermarket chains (including Shufersal) and defence companies (including Elbit Systems). Two of the 51 companies are registered in the Netherlands: Booking.com (part of Booking Holdings) and CNH Industrial, manufacturer of agricultural machinery and trucks, among others. The survey also shines light on well-known international companies such as Caterpillar, Heidelberg Materials, Siemens, Volvo.
Besides the three major Dutch investors already mentioned, other Dutch institutions on the list of financial institutions investing in companies active in the illegal settlements in the West Bank include ABN Amro, Rabobank, insurers Aegon and ASR Netherlands, asset managers MN Services, Cardano Group and Van Lanschot Kempen, and pension funds PFZW, PMT, PME, BpfBouw and Detailhandel. Together, they invest 14.9 billion euro.
Financial institutions must take responsibility
The report includes recommendations that call upon financial institutions to take their responsibilities. For instance, the researchers argue that financial institutions should actively engage with companies they are invested in to end their activities in the illegal settlements. If this does not yield results in the short term, they should end their financial relationships with these companies.
Israeli settlements in the West Bank have frequently been labelled illegal by the UN, the EU and the Netherlands. The Rome Statute, the founding treaty of the International Criminal Court, lists illegal settlements as a war crime. The international normative framework on business and human rights -the UN Guiding Principles and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises on Responsible Business Conduct- require financial institutions to avoid contributing to human rights violations through their investments.