Can Banks Improve Animal Welfare? Yes, and You Can Too — An Interview
Industrial farming of animals and animal products is a staple component of today’s global food supply chains.
However, it’s a significant contributor of greenhouse gas emissions that are a byproduct of animal digestion and manure. It’s estimated that between 14.5% to 16.5% of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions come from livestock farming. That translates to at least seven gigatonnes of CO2 per year!
That’s not the only issue though — industrial farming also causes animal suffering and can contribute to the spread of illnesses between animals and humans. Factory farming is designed to yield large volumes of produce at the lowest possible cost, which means that animals are usually kept in tiny cages and fed on antibiotics to keep them alive.
Can we make food (supply) systems more sustainable? The current practices have been established and widely accepted for years, so changing them is a difficult task that requires a systematic approach. Banks can play a significant role in the process. How can they influence the system and make a positive change?
Karolina Długosz, Sustainability Lead at Netguru, talked with Merel van der Mark, Animal Welfare and Finance Manager at Sinergia Animal, and Jacek Siadkowski, Managing Director of Tech To The Rescue Foundation, to understand how exactly banks can make this impact. Merel explains how she benefited from the Tech To The Rescue initiative, a voluntary movement of tech companies to help social impact organizations around the world implement digital solutions to scale up their influence.
Merel has always been an advocate for climate protection and animal welfare. As part of her work at Sinergia Animal, she urges financial institutions to put pressure on global food producers and other companies that use animals, to ban the worst forms of animal cruelty. As part of these efforts, Sinergia Animal launched banksforanimals.org, an interactive website where visitors can put yet more pressure on banks to engage in animal welfare — yes, that means you can contribute to solving this global issue as well.
The website was created with the pro-bono support of Tech To The Rescue.
Karolina Długosz, Sustainability Lead at Netguru: Merel, what's wrong with animal welfare today?
Merel van der Mark: The vast majority of meat and fish, dairy and eggs produced for consumption, globally, is done through factory farming. This is a very intensive way of raising animals. Often, they are locked up in very small cages with no access to the outside world and natural light, they can't even stretch their legs or spread their wings. They are deprived of expressing their natural behavior, which is a frequent cause for frustration. We think that this should change.
What sort of actions does Sinergia Animal do?
MvdM: Part of our work focuses on getting food companies to commit to e.g., phasing out the use of eggs produced by caged-up hens.
This incentivizes producers to adjust their production processes. In addition, we also work with institutions or schools to adopt at least one plant-based day in their cafeterias and restaurants, in order to be more sustainable and increase people’s health. Also, we have a separate campaign targeting financial institutions.
If a company commits by e.g., 2025 to use cage-free eggs only, that gives a clear signal to the market that there's this specific demand.
Banks? What role do they play in this scenario?
MvdM: The big food manufacturers need financing, which they often get from banks or investors. The same can be said about other sectors, such as the pharmaceutical, fashion and entertainment industries.
Because of that, the financial sector has a lot of leverage over its clients. They can adopt policies and set minimum criteria that clients must comply with in order to receive finance.
Many already do that in some way. We want the banks to include animal welfare among their criteria.
Can you share more about these criteria?
MvdM: A key criterion is regarding the use of cages -, we want banks not to finance any companies that lock animals up in small cages. Another one is on ensuring animals don't suffer mutilations, unnecessary procedures like cutting the tails off of little piglets, and a third one is on limiting the transport of animals to no more than eight hours. We ask banks to not finance companies who employ such and other practices. We've set up a whole list of 21 different criteria for different types of animals that are used by humans.
How did you come up with these criteria?
MvdM: There is an initiative called Fair Finance International (FFI), created by a number of organizations from different countries. They evaluate financing policies of banks against different topics, ranging from human rights through climate change to deforestation. The Dutch and the Swedish FFI chapters also include animal welfare. But this initiative does not cover financial institutions in most countries that are important to our work. We used their criteria because we didn’t want to reinvent the wheel. But we tweaked them a little bit to make some criteria a bit stricter.
Do banks listen to Sinergia Animal?
MvdM: It's not easy to shift the financial sector and we are still at the beginning of this campaign, but e.g., BNP Paribas adopted a stricter policy earlier this year. That came after we and other groups had talks with them separately on animal welfare. On a different note, we did have some very interesting calls, especially with South American banks who are much more open to discussing the issue than we expected. They were not aware of some of the issues that we exposed.
Did you ask the banks to be evaluated against these criteria?
MvdM: No, we didn't ask them. We selected 3–4 of the largest banks from each of the countries where we work. Then we added more — mainly the largest financiers of the meat and dairy industry. We also took a few green banks, e.g., Triodos Bank in the Netherlands or Australian Ethical, that refuse to finance industrial farming at all. We included them as a comparison benchmark.
In the end, you have a database of 69 banks published on your website. What do you expect the audience to do?
MvdM: We have two audiences in mind. One is the banks themselves. The page publishes the policies of each bank, to give them a tool to compare their policies and learn from each other. The other part of the audience is clients and followers.
We hope that people will start engaging with the banks and ask for change.
They could say e.g., "I hope you improve your policies so I can continue to keep my businesses with you”, using the dedicated social media buttons.
Jacek, before I ask you about your criteria, tell us, what is Tech To The Rescue?
Jacek Siadkowski: It is a voluntary movement of tech companies to help social impact organizations around the world implement digital solutions to scale up their influence. Tech To The Rescue bridges the gap between the Tech and Social world. We were created by a coalition of 10+ central European tech companies and so far, we have managed to bring over 250 Tech companies together to implement technology solutions for good. There has been a positive influence on the lives of more than 1,050,000 people in 12 countries which we are very proud of.
So how did you find out Sinergia Animal needed IT support?
JS: We built good relationships with organizations that do a great job at improving animal welfare. We met the people and operations manager of Sinergia — Thai Costa. We discussed a few of their plans and how tech could further leverage their impact. The Bank for Animals website was one of Sinergia’s ideas, and that’s what we’ve done recently.
You also have criteria as to which projects to help with pro-bono IT support and which you don't want to support. Can you tell us a little bit more about these?
JS: We act as a matchmaker between nonprofits and tech companies. We review each idea or request we receive against a number of different criteria, but the final decision to engage in a given project is always on the company’s side. We screen offers for the quality of the organization. We want to support projects which are in line with the organization's strategy and where they have the potential to make an impact.
Netguru did the design for the Banks for Animals website and Gerere did the development work. It’s yet another new thing about the way that Tech To The Rescue works — that two companies delivered a common project, they made a joint effort on one project. How did you find this cooperation?
MvdM: I am impressed about how smooth it was, I did not have a perception at all that there were two different organizations. It was very well structured. I think it was great.
The Banksforanimals.org website launched on December 6. Do you plan to add more banks there?
MvdM: Yes. Yeah, definitely. We want to increase the number of banks, keep the website updated, of course, and increase our engagement with the banks. We hope to increase the interactions and mobilize our members to start sending the messages and hold them accountable.
Ok. Let’s say I'm a user and I know nothing about it, and somebody sends me the link. What is there for me? What should I do about it? I'm not a bank. I'm an individual.
MvdM: Well, it depends on how much you're interested.
If we can just ask you one thing, it would be to go to the ranking list, pick a bank and send them a message asking them to tighten their policies.
If you want to be more proactive, you can see if your bank is there and e.g., send them a message saying you want to see improved policies from them in order to keep them as your bank of choice. These are the kinds of ways you can interact with the website. If you feel like a nerd about policies, you can dive into all the banks and their policies.
MvdM: I want to ask a question as well. Why did you choose to participate?
Karolina Długosz: That's a nice question. At the very beginning, we did not have animal welfare within our focus. But at a point there was an internal discussion at Netguru about whether we should work with businesses in this sector at all. After all, we are a B Corp certified organization, we know that industrial farming is one of the key contributors to climate change and how interdependent the world is. Not only have we resigned from some corporations but we also placed this topic as a “red flag” for our salespeople. Unless the innovations that we build at Netguru can change it, we don't want to be part of this. We believe that this sort of action, that you undertake as Sinergia Animal by putting pressure on financing institutions, is addressing one of our key points. It convinced us to join the project.
If you’re a software house or IT company able to offer your services in a pro-bono capacity, there are certainly many animal welfare charities that would be grateful for your team’s skills and experience! You can also get involved in Tech To The Rescue and help make the world a better place for animals!