LONDON (Reuters) – The Chairman of Barclays said the British bank “can and should play a leading role” in tackling climate change, hours after environmental activists sprayed imitation oil on its headquarters to call on the lender to divest from fossil fuels.
FILE PHOTO: A Barclays bank building is seen at Canary Wharf in London, Britain May 17, 2017. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth/
Barclays also faced another broadside from rebel shareholder Sherborne Investors, which again questioned whether Chief Executive Jes Staley should remain in post given his links to disgraced U.S. financier Jeffrey Epstein.
Addressing climate change concerns, Chairman Nigel Higgins said the lender was committed to becoming greener in a statement ahead of the annual general meeting, which is being held behind closed doors to comply with COVID-19 social distancing rules.
Activists from Extinction Rebellion said biodegradable and vegan “oil” was sprayed onto Barclays’ office in Canary Wharf in London in protest at the bank’s financial support of energy and utility firms.
The results of two separate climate change motions – one backed by investor group ShareAction and the other by the Barclays board – will be published later on Thursday.
Investors, politicians and activists seeking to accelerate the transition to a low-carbon economy have turned their focus to the role of banks in financing fossil fuels.
The ShareAction resolution called on Barclays to set, disclose and evaluate targets to phase out financial services to fossil fuels, energy and utility companies.
Barclays has proposed the setting, disclosure and annual assessment of targets throughout its activities and to become a net zero bank by 2050.
Barclays declined to comment on the Extinction Rebellion protest or the Sherborne statement.
CENTRAL QUESTION OF WHY
The bank’s largest shareholder with a 5.8% stake, said last month it would defer a long-running campaign to displace Staley as the bank battled with the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. It said it would withhold its vote to re-elect him instead.
The activist investor led by Edward Bramson said the board’s unanimous endorsement of Staley did not address the central question of why Staley continued to “benefit from doing business” with Epstein long after Epstein’s crimes became public.
“In our view, this behaviour, alone, would make Mr. Staley unsuitable to be a director of any financial institution,” Sherborne said.
“When other shareholders’ votes become public in the coming weeks, we would be curious to know how those who voted for Mr. Staley’s reappointment arrived at a different conclusion.”
Britain’s financial regulators are investigating Staley’s past links to Epstein, who killed himself in August while awaiting trial in the United States on sex-trafficking charges.
Higgins also said the cancellation of the bank’s dividend at the behest of the Bank of England had caused an “immediate and unwelcome” impact on shareholders, adding that the bank could have afforded the payout.
Separately on Thursday, the British parliament’s treasury committee asked Barclays to explain delays to granting emergency loans to small businesses, following criticism of banks for sluggish delivery of state-backed loans to struggling firms.
Editing by Tommy Reggiori Wilkes and Barbara Lewis