what are the challenges for financial institutions?

From January 22, 2021, financing and investment actions for nuclear arsenals will be prohibited by an international treaty adopted at the United Nations. French financial institutions must now initiate a divestment policy to comply with international law and thus ensure their clients full compliance with their corporate social responsibility obligations.

Money is the sinews of war! On July 7, 2017, the 122 States which adopted the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TIAN) at the UN understood this well. Taking the example of the treaties banning anti-personnel mines and cluster munitions, they decided not only to ban production, but also through Article 1.e and the words “to help, encourage or encourage” the financial means which ensure this production.


Divestment in the production of nuclear weapons systems is therefore an important element of this new treaty in force on January 22, 2021. This subject is seriously taken into account by the French presidency. Few observers and journalists have underlined it, but the president in his speech on deterrence (February 7, 2020), indicated that the TIAN “will not create any new obligations for France, neither for the State, nor for public or private actors in its territory ”. Thus, even before this treaty became the force of international law, France was trying to light a parade vis-à-vis this legal provision, but thus underlined its importance; thank you Mr President!

Few people know it, but financial institutions by their investments in large armaments companies (EADS, SAFRAN, Naval Group, Boeing …) constantly maintain the possibility of a nuclear war. Between 2017 and 2019, globally, these institutions have invested a minimum of $ 748 billion in the military nuclear industry. In France, still according to data from the NGO Pax (member of ICAN) and its reports “Dont bank on the bomb”, at least 14 financial institutions – including: Axa, AG2R, BNP, Carmignac gestion, Crédit agricole, Crédit Mutual, Rothschild Group, Société Générale, Viel & Cie – have invested a staggering $ 30 billion in military nuclear power since 2014.

The financial sector under pressure

Because of the importance of these investments, it is surprising to read under their pen that nuclear weapons are “controversial”, “of mass destruction” or even qualified as “sensitive weapon”, in their document of “sectoral defense policy. “. Some even (BNP, Crédit Mutuel) prohibit any investment in this sector, but only for companies that are not members of the European Union or NATO … the borders would therefore make these weapons acceptable!

Financial institutions have, in the past, taken into account international standards that prohibit chemical, biological, cluster munition and anti-personnel mines. At the same time, they are strengthening – and with good reason – their corporate social responsibility (CSR) policy. For example, they divest from certain highly polluting industries (such as coal for BNP), they implement “green” financing, they promote the objectives of sustainable development (including n ° 16 “peace and justice”), or some of them are affiliated to the Global Compact (United Nations initiative) whose first principle is to “respect the protection of international human rights law” …

Deutsche Bank (Germany), Bank Australia (Australi), KBC (Belgium), Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group (Japan), the Dutch pension funds ABP, Swedish (AP) or the Norwegian “Government Pension Fund Global”, are some examples of establishments which have already adopted the TIAN obligations in their investment rules. Between 2016 and 2019, the total number of financial institutions that excluded nuclear weapons from their investment increased from 18 to 36 (2020) demonstrating both feasibility, economic interest and public communication. Divestment is therefore possible, it should be noted, including in states which currently reject TIAN or which are members of a military alliance, in which nuclear deterrence is a component of their military strategy.

Name and shame actions

The TIAN, as our ICAN France campaign underlined, questions the various CSR managers of these institutions. This is also why President Macron intervened on the subject. They are faced with a dilemma: respect international law or violate it? In the second case, it is their reputation which will once again be tarnished with the certainty of having to expose themselves to possible actions of “name and shame” (literally “to name and shame”) or to face withdrawal actions from their private or institutional clients, such as cities or universities concerned with respecting international law and the environment.

Financing nuclear weapons programs, the production of which can be used to destroy our society and its economy, to make a profit, is a short-term vision. Now it is prohibited by international law. It’s time for private actors to take responsibility

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