Following a month of protests at over 22 local Barclays’ branches around the UK, campaigners from the World Development Movement (WDM) are preparing to protest at the Barclays annual general meeting (AGM) tomorrow (27 April).
They object to what they describe as the bank’s leading role in food speculation. The campaigners say this is pushing up the price of staple food and having a disastrous effect on the lives of millions of the poorest people across the world.
“It is high time a light was shone on this shadowy, socially useless, pure gambling activity by large financial players such as Barclays,” said WDM’s policy officer, Murray Worthy, “Along with others in the sector, Barclays is able to make unchallenged profits by betting on hunger.”
The protests come following research published by WDM earlier this month that found Barclays to be the UK’s leading bank in food speculation.
The report concludes that Barclays could be making as much as £340 million in profit annually from food speculative activities, leading to accusations from campaigners that Barclays is “profiting from hunger”.
In addition, WDM found that Barclays are a key facilitator in helping other financial players – such as pension funds – speculate on food. This has raised alarm bells with campaigners who are concerned that releasing just a fraction of the masses of money that pension funds hold onto the food markets will lead to a grave inflationary push on food prices.
Concerns over food speculation come amid fears that many parts of the world are currently heading for another food price crisis on a scale equivalent to 2008.
The UNFAO food price index this month shows a 60 per cent increase in the price of cereals such as corn, wheat and rice in a single year. Indeed, the World Bank estimates that a further 40 million people have been pushed into poverty and hunger since June 2010 as a result of rising food prices.
“Rising food prices are the last thing people in the UK need when we are feeling the pinch,” said Murray Worthy, “However the effects of soaring food prices are being most disastrously felt by millions of people in the poorest countries who are being pushed into greater hunger and poverty”.
He compared speculation on food commodities to the scandal surrounding sub-prime mortgages.
“Food is a basic right, not just a financial number flashing across the trading screens,” insisted Worthy, “We are calling for the government to finally stand up to the banks and back vital legislation that will curb this reckless behaviour for the good of us all.”
A range of groups and individuals have taken nonviolent direct action in Barclay's branches in recent months, objecting to tax avoidance and the bank's role in the economic crisis as well as its part in food speculation.
The protests have involved both religious and non-religious groups. In February, a group of Quakers held a Quaker Meeting for Worship in a Barclay's branch in Oxford. On the day of the anti-cuts protests on 26 March, a group of Christians planned an act of worship in Barclay's in the Tottenham Court Road in central London, but the branch had closed early to avoid protests.