ANZ, Commonwealth, NAB And Westpac Accused of Financing Controversial Companies Involved in Fraud, Child Labor

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By Reissa Su | April 29, 2014 6:49 PM EST

Australia's "Big Four" banks are trying to stay away from dealings with companies accused of land-grabbing, illegal logging, fraud, child labor and other unethical and immoral practices in developing countries. 

ANZ, Commonwealth Bank, National Australia Bank and Westpac were named in Oxfam Australia's report released on April 28 wth the title, "Banking on Shaky Ground." Oxfam said these Australian banks had made large loans to companies involved in evicting people from their lands.

Oxfam Australia's Chief Executive Dr. Helen Szoke said the banks had backed companies in Papua New Guinea, Brazil, Cambodia and Indonesia, stressing the connection with these Australian banks has led to billions of dollars of exposure for average Australians who had entrusted their savings accounts or possibly superannuation funds.

The report noted the Australian banks' dealings with other companies resulted in risks from potential asset writedowns and the possibility of courts and foreign governments to cancel their land deals.

According to reports, the Australian banks said they will now work with Oxfam with regard to the allegations. It said several major multinational companies like PepsiCo and Coca-Cola have adopted tough policies so they will not be involved with companies in land grabs.

The National Australia Bank has been found to be funding palm oil giant Wilmar, a company accused of stealing land in Malaysia and Indonesia since 2011. The bank had allowed Wilmar to make a loan in 2013 despite Wilmar was rated by Newsweek magazine as the least sustainable company in the world based on environmental performance.  

Oxfam reported the Commonwealth Bank had invested $15.3 million in Bunge, an agribusiness company accused of sourcing sugar from people living on land in Brazil. The country's laws have previously specified the land belonged to indigenous locals. Brazilian prosecutors are already investigating the allegations.

Westpac was found to support a company accused of clearing a rainforest despite Papua New Guinea's ruling that its lease was invalid.  The country also claimed Independent Timbers and Stevedoring had used fraud and deception to steal land.

The two companies were also being investigated for racketeering. Oxfam also reported ANZ was financing a sugar plantation in Cambodia accused of child labor.

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