The Cooperative Difference

As an example of corporate social responsibility, one of the first examples I experienced as ED at RAVEN of ‘being the change’ that Gandhi espoused was with a member-led bank in the UK.  The bank’s commitment to Beaver Lake Cree Nation’s legal action to push back the tar sands industrial developments pre-dates RAVEN and my work by a good six months so some of this was learned after the fact.  

In late 2008 – early 2009 Manchester-based The Co-operative Bank’s socially responsible fund looked around to determine where best to put its money.  The committee set up to allocate the members’ funds determined that the greatest issue at hand was climate change and that one of the greatest contributors to global warming was the expanding tar sands industries.  When they looked further to see who was doing something about it, they came to Beaver Lake Cree Nation’s legal action, filed in May 2008 – aimed at curtailing the expansion and keeping the fuels in the ground.

From the bank’s former website, they announced: “As part of the The Co-operative Bank’s “Toxic Fuel” campaign, which supports the Beaver Lake Cree Nation legal action, the bank will be donating £100, 000 to charities and organisations involved in challenging the expansion of toxic fuels. The bank is asking colleagues and customers to vote on how to split the donation between three worthy causes, and topping the list is the Beaver Lake Cree Nation.

In 2009, they invited former Chief Lameman and members of BLCN Council to a rally in London’s Trafalgar Square to start what would become a large public campaign to encourage the bank’s members and the UK at large to donate toward the legal action.  

Youtube video from the first BLCN visit to London (prior to RAVEN) – 2009:

My direct dealings with the bank really began in earnest in July 2010.  Two bank employees – Colin Baines, the bank’s ethics advisor, and Paul Monaghan, head of social goals and sustainability – flew to attend the BLCN pow wow.  They were drummed in as part of the grand entry and then delivered a cheque for $100,000. Their second significant donation to the cause. BBC and other media attended – interest now piqued by the unusual intervention in a Canadian court case by a UK bank.  

When they got home they set up a website called Toxic Fuels, and created a separate Beaver Lake Cree site through which people could donate to RAVEN.   And they funded reports like “Save the Caribou: Stop the Tar Sands” in which they stated: “The Co-operative views the Beaver Lake Cree’s legal action as perhaps the best chance we have to stop tar sands expansion.”  They also created some unique t-shirts by a relatively famous UK designer that were sold. It was an amazing and welcome display of partnership and support, particularly as RAVEN was truly just out of the egg and did not have the resources at that point to mount such a prominent campaign.

Then the Co-operative partnered with WWF and Greenpeace to produce a powerful street exhibition called Tarnished Earth, which ran for 4 weeks in London in September 2010, and then toured the UK for several months from October onward. The almost unreal-looking photos on show brought home an all-too-real threat for urban Londoners. The tar sands are not just destroying a beautiful wild landscape – the industrial developments contribute vast amounts of extra carbon emissions, increasing the threat of global warming and climate change. I went as part of the Tarnished Earth entourage, taking Chief Lameman and members of the legal team throughout the UK to speak about their effort to draw a legal line in the tar sand.

Images here:

From the exhibition:

And finally The Co-op pushed through the EU’s “fuel quality directive” aimed at reducing transport-related CO2 emissions by 6%, putting pressure on fuel producers to start cleaning up their acts. But after lobbying from the oil industry and Canadian government, draft legislation that included a CO2 limit for tar sands-derived fuel was dropped.

Their priorities changed over time, but that deep level of engagement was pivotal for RAVEN.  I remain grateful and gobsmacked at their energy and enthusiasm to help at a time when so many people still had no idea where the tar sands are, or why a small Nation in northern Alberta would risk going to court against government to stop them from destroying their rights and way of life.  

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