HSBC: Campaign victory and what's ahead in 2019

This article was published on
 | News and analysis
Campaigners protest at HSBC's 2018 AGM, holding a giant banner reading "HSBC profits from Israeli war crimes".

After just over a year of pressure from War on Want and our allies, global banking giant HSBC confirmed to us that it has divested completely from Israeli weapons manufacturer Elbit Systems.

From Palestine to the U.S.-Mexico border, Elbit Systems has been a leading force in militarised walls, state surveillance of civilians, and deadly drones. That’s why, as part of our campaign calling on HSBC to Stop Arming Israel, we pressured the bank to divest from Elbit. Over 24,000 people took action to press HSBC to divest from Elbit, and the bank finally listened. What a testament to the power of grassroots campaigning!

HSBC still has a long way to go before it can claim to be an ‘ethical’ bank. It still maintains business with BAE Systems, complicit in war crimes committed by Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and other repressive regimes, as well as Caterpillar, whose equipment is used in the destruction of Palestinian villages (you can read more about this in our 'Deadly Investments' report).

In 2019, we'll be ramping up the pressure on HSBC to end its links with Caterpillar and other companies complicit in human rights abuse. And we'll need your support, now more than ever.

Below is a brief timeline of the campaign so far.

July 2017: Deadly Investments report launch

Cover image for Deadly Investments – pictures Israeli soldiers in front of a bulldozer. The image reads "Deadly investments: UK bank complicity in Israel's crimes against the Palestinian people".

In July 2017, we published our report ‘Deadly Investments: UK bank complicity in Israel’s crimes against the Palestinian people’. In it, we exposed HSBC’s shareholdings in Elbit Systems. We had already communicated with HSBC beforehand to notify the bank of our research and to give it the opportunity to divest and stop lending to companies complicit in human rights abuse.

July 2017: Pickets at HSBC branches

A picket at a HSBC branch in Brighton. Campaigners hold "Stop Arming Israel" placards and a banner that says "HSBC: The World's Lethal Bank", with the HSBC logo made to look like a tank.
Campaigners protest at a HSBC branch in Brighton.

Campaigners across the UK held pickets and protests at HSBC branches calling on the bank to Stop Arming Israel, and thousands of War on Want members and supporters emailed HSBC to get the message across, along with allies from the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and other groups.

October 2017: HSBC's inadequate response

HSBC called us in for a meeting, and gave us a load of excuses which just didn’t add up. We made clear that doing business with companies like Elbit lends legitimacy to its actions, such as boasting of its ‘combat-proven’ technology, weaponry tried and tested in crimes against Palestinians.

April 2018: Protest at HSBC's AGM

Groups around the UK increased their participation in the popular campaign to get HSBC to stop arming Israel, reaching a high point at the bank’s AGM in April, when we showed up and grilled execs over the bank’s business links with companies arming repression. 

July 2018: Pressure on HSBC–Elbit connection

Stop Arming Israel campaigners take action outside an Elbit-owned factory in Birmingham. Photo: Birmingham Palestine Action. They are flying Palestine flags. A banner on the fence outside the factory reads "HSBC: The World's Lethal Bank profits from Israeli Apartheid. The protesters hold another banner that reads "#EndTheSeigeOnGaza #GreatReturnMarch"

In July, campaigners turned up the heat over HSBC’s connection with Elbit.

September 2018: Campaigners email HSBC over Elbit

An ad-hack showing an Elbit Hermes 900 drone over a HSBC logo in grey cut out of a blue sky. The red HSBC logo is in the bottom-left, the Elbit logo bottom-centre, and text in the bottom-right reads "Together we destroy"

In September, we wrote a letter to HSBC providing more detail on the reason why Elbit has been excluded by banks, investment and pension funds around the world. A national day of action pushed the bank on the issue as well.

December 2018: BDS victory!

HSBC divests from Elbit Systems!

In the last days of December 2018, HSBC emailed us to confirm that the bank had finally completely divested from Elbit, stating "HSBC Asset Management is fully divested from Elbit with effect from close of business, 20 December 2018".

In other words, HSBC bowed to our pressure. We won!

2019: Keeping up the pressure

People kneel in front of a Caterpillar bulldozer at Khan al Ahmar village. Credit: ActiveStills.
A Caterpillar bulldozer at Khan al Ahmar village. Credit:

But there’s so much more work to do. HSBC still has business links to other companies complicit in violence and abuse against Palestinians, and around the world. HSBC has shares in and participated in syndicated loans to Caterpillar, a company whose equipment is used by the Israeli military to destroy Palestinian homes, schools, and other property to make way for illegal settlements, a war crime.