Campaigners’ Spoof HSBC Adverts Expose Bank’s ‘Climate Colonialism’

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Climate activists have plastered more than 250 billboards, bus stops and tubes with parody HSBC adverts to highlight the bank’s “climate colonialism”.

The spoof adverts were created by 15 artists across 10 UK cities to mock HSBC’s controversial “We Are Not An Island’ ad campaign, a high profile initiative launched in 2019.

Drawing on its branding, the fake ads shed doubt on HSBC‘s caring, sustainable imaging. One reads: “We are climate breakdown. Drilling oil, fracking gas, mining coal. We’re still funding the lot”, while another states “We are not an ethical bank. You are deceived.”


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‘Right of reply’

Tona Merriman from Brandalism, organisers of this week’s campaign, said the billboard gave the public’s “right of reply to HSBC‘s PR spin.” 

Wunderman Thompson, the agency behind HSBC’s PR pollution and brand rehabilitation, even seems to understand their role in obscuring these abuses,” Merriman told DeSmog. “Their ‘Together We Thrive’ campaign attempted to co-opt local city identities – a classic tool from the advertising playbook of exploiting authentic cultures for commercial gain.”

 “When advertising agencies launder their clients’ reputations, it skews public debate on substantive issues like climate change, human rights and colonial oppression… So we created a right of reply for the public, here and abroad, to provide a corrective to HSBC’s billboards.”

Since the 2015 Paris climate accord, HSBC has invested over £67 billion in fossil fuels. Analysis by campaign group Share Action recently revealed it was heavily involved in financing major fossil fuel projects and companies before setting out its new net zero target last month. Less than three weeks before announcing the pledge, the bank signed a high carbon deal worth $1.42 billion and issued by Aker BP ASA, a Norwegian oil exploration and development company. 

Other banks have responded to public pressure to decarbonise, including Barclays, who pledged earlier this year to reach net zero emissions by 2050. Natwest Group also promised to meet this target.

Oil giants BP, Shell, Total and Repsol have also made net-zero promises over the past year and invested millions of dollars in forest projects to offset their greenhouse gas emissions.

Corporate responsibility

Campaigners accuse HSBC of ‘climate colonialism’ over its bankrolling of projects such as a Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) extraction project in Mozambique. In addition to the environmental destruction fossil fuel extraction brings, the project has displaced over 550 families and evicted communities from their land and livelihoods, and brought increased militarisation to the area.

Anabela Lemos, Director of campaign group Ja! Mozambique, told DeSmog: “The development of the HSBC-funded LNG gas project has caused mass human rights violations in Mozambique, forced removals of hundreds of families from their homes, and the loss of livelihood for farmers and fishermen who have been deprived of their land and access to the sea. 

These communities are literally starving. Financiers like HSBC are collaterally responsible for these human rights violations as a major contributor to the project.”

HSBC also had significant stakes in the company behind a controversial tar sands oil pipeline approved by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in 2016, analysis revealed. Financial data seen by DeSmog UK showed HSBC holds almost $118 million (£93.7 million) worth of shares in Kinder Morgan, which owns the recently approved Trans Mountain pipeline.

HSBC is Europe’s second largest financier of fossil fuels,” ShareAction’s Jeanne Martin told DeSmog. “We know that as recently as this summer it was signing new deals with companies expanding coal production and building tar sands pipelines, which are clearly incompatible with its stated aim to become a net zero bank.”

A report published by Fund Our Future in September this year listed HSBC as the 12th worst banker of climate destruction, and one of the top financiers driving deforestation in the Amazon. 

HSBC has been contacted for comment.

Photo source: Brandalism. © Michelle Tylicki

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