A worker unloads palm fruit at a plantation in Peat Jaya in Jambi province on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. Photo: Reuters/ Wahyu Putro

Loans and credit from the British bank HSBC have helped support the unsustainable clearing of forests for oil palm plantations in Indonesia, Greenpeace said in a report published on January 17.

The world’s sixth-largest bank has helped marshal US$16.3 billion in financing for six companies since 2012 that have illegally cleared forests, planted oil palm on once-carbon-rich peatland, and failed to secure the support of local communities for their operations – all of which run counter to HSBC’s own environmental commitments, according to Greenpeace.

“HSBC claims it’s a respectable bank with responsible policies on deforestation,” said Annisa Rahmawati, senior forest campaigner for Greenpeace Southeast Asia, in a statement. “But somehow these fine words get forgotten when it’s time to sign the contracts.”

Environmental organizations recently have stepped up their efforts to expose the funding behind so-called “forest-risk” companies, which are likely to clear forests to produce palm oil and rubber, harvest timber, and make paper. In mid-2016, a coalition set up the Forests & Finance Database, connecting companies involved in these sorts of activities in Southeast Asia with their banking institutions around the world.

In the new report from Greenpeace, the organization contends that these bankers should take responsibility when their money is used to destroy critical habitat, separate local people from their land or unleash the ill effects of deforestation to both the planet and human health.

“Deforestation causes devastating fires that threaten the health of millions across Southeast Asia, and our global climate,” Rahmawati said in the statement. “So why is HSBC helping to raise billions for the companies fanning the flames?”

But the bank told Mongabay that’s not what is happening.

“HSBC’s policies prohibit the financing of operations that are illegal, damage high conservation value forest/landscaping or violate the rights of workers and local people,” Ankit Patel, a spokesperson for the bank in an email. “HSBC does not knowingly provide financial services which directly support palm oil companies which do not comply with our policy.

Mongabay is a non-profit provider of conservation and environmental science news. We aim to inspire, educate, and inform.

The article first appeared on Mongabay. Read it here.

Asia Times Financial is now live. Linking accurate news, insightful analysis and local knowledge with the ATF China Bond 50 Index, the world's first benchmark cross sector Chinese Bond Indices. Read ATF now.