- French bank BNP Paribas is being sued by a group of environmental and human rights advocacy groups that allege it provides financial services to oil and gas companies as well as meat producers that clear the Amazon to make space for cattle pastures.
- The basis of both lawsuits is a 2017 French law known as the “Duty of Vigilance Act,” which requires companies and financial institutions to develop reasonable due diligence measures that identify human rights and environmental violations.
- Even though the bank has committed to financing a net-zero carbon economy by 2050, the groups that filed the lawsuits said it still isn’t meeting the standards of the 2017 law.
One of Europe’s biggest banks is facing two ambitious new lawsuits that claim it finances some of the worst contributors to environmental destruction and climate change.
French bank BNP Paribas is being sued by a group of environmental and human rights advocacy groups that allege it provides financial services to oil and gas companies as well as meat producers that clear the Amazon to make space for cattle pastures — a direct violation of a French due diligence law.
The lawsuits, filed in French court, are some of the first to go after big banks for their role in the climate crisis, potentially opening up a new legal avenue for activists trying to combat climate change.
“The financial sector has an enormous collective responsibility to meet or not meet the Paris Agreement,” Justine Ripoll, campaign manager for Notre Affaire à Tous, said in a statement. “This climate litigation against a commercial bank is undoubtedly the first in a long series — all over the world.”
The first lawsuit, filed this month by Oxfam, Friends of the Earth and climate justice NGO Notre Affaire à Tous, accused BNP Paribas of giving loans to oil and gas companies like BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil and Shell, among others.
The other lawsuit, filed a week later by Comissão Pastoral da Terra and Notre Affaire À Tous, said the bank funds companies like Marfrig, a meat producer that continues to purchase cattle from illegally deforested land, according to Mongabay’s previous reporting. The company has also been accused of denying access to information about its supply chains and refusing to monitor indirect beef suppliers.
The organizations that filed the lawsuit cited a study by the Center for Climate Crime Analysis, in which two Marfrig slaughterhouses showed ties to suppliers responsible for more than 120,000 hectares (300,000 acres) of deforestation between 2009 and 2020.
“The meat sector is the biggest driver of deforestation in the Amazon and also one of the biggest sources of methane emissions, a very potent greenhouse gas that exacerbates climate change,” Merel van der Mark, of the Rainforest Action Network, said in a notice letter sent to the bank in October 2022.
The basis of both lawsuits is a 2017 French law known as the “Duty of Vigilance Act,” which requires companies and financial institutions to develop reasonable due diligence measures for identifying and preventing human rights and environmental violations — even when operating abroad.
On paper, the law requires companies and banks to implement a system for monitoring their business activities and the activities of suppliers. But the organizations filing the lawsuits said the bank isn’t meeting the standards of the law.
“Despite its commitments and public statements, BNP Paribas continues to fund deforestation in the Amazon,” Jérémie Suissa, General Delegate of Notre Affaire à Tous, said in a statement.
The bank has committed to financing a net-zero carbon economy by 2050, including implementing deforestation regulations in the palm oil, wood pulp and agriculture sectors and no longer financing projects connected to unconventional oil & gas production.
In a comment to Reuters, the bank said it “required its clients to have a ‘zero deforestation’ strategy in their production and supply chains by 2025.”
Banner image: Cattle in Brazil. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia.
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