For months supporters of the Standing Rock Sioux have been urged to boycott Wells Fargo, the world’s second largest bank, because of its financing of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Many closed their Wells Fargo checking and savings accounts, moving the money to credit unions. The amounts weren’t much, perhaps a few hundred or a few thousand dollars each. One supporter, however, represented a bit more, about $3 billion.
On Monday, December 12, the Seattle City Council introduced legislation that would effectively sever the city’s relationship with Wells Fargo. The bank currently manages the city’s $3 billion operating account, which includes the $30 million biweekly employee payroll.
Under the proposed legislation the city’s current contract with Wells Fargo, which ends in one year, on December 31, 2017, would not be renewed. In the meantime, the city would “enter into a voluntary debarment agreement with Wells Fargo Bank for a period of at least one year, and refrain from conducting banking, investment, or other business with Wells Fargo Bank for a period of at least one year when it is in the City’s discretion.”
In other words, the bill would stop all business with Wells Fargo for one year, at which time the current contract with them would end and would not be renewed.
Why Wells Fargo?
While many different banks are financing the Dakota Access Pipeline, research by Food & Water Watch identifies 17 banks as loaning directly to Dakota Access LLC. Most are located in other countries such as France, Japan, the Netherlands, Canada, Italy, Germany, England and Spain. Of those located in the U.S., only two are large with many branch offices: Wells Fargo and Citibank. Wells Fargo is being targeted because it is the most visible of the U.S. banks financing the pipeline, loaning close to $500 million for its construction.
Additionally, federal regulators recently revealed a scandal involving Wells Fargo employees who opened over 2 million unauthorized bank and credit card accounts in the names of customers, apparently to hit sales targets and make money on fees. Approximately 5,300 Wells Fargo employees have been fired.
And if that weren’t reason enough, in 2012 the U.S. Department of Justice forced Wells Fargo to pay $175 million after it was determined they engaged in discriminatory lending practices against black and Hispanic borrowers.
Seattle Joins Other Governments Divesting From Wells Fargo
“This ordinance will announce our intention to not renew Wells Fargo’s contract as the city’s bank when the contract expires in 2018 and will change our financial policies so that we can select a bank with much stronger social justice criteria,” Council Member Kshama Sawant, who sponsored the bill, told those at Monday’s meeting. “Other cities like Minneapolis and states like California are considering similar measures.”
On September 28 the New York Times reported that California state treasurer John Chiang is suspending Wells Fargo’s business relationships with the state for at least a year due to the phony bank account scandal.
Last week the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported, “The Minneapolis City Council on Wednesday asked staff to explore ways the city could ‘stop doing business with financial institutions that invest in the fossil fuel industry and in projects such as the Dakota Access Pipeline,’ including Wells Fargo.”
The San Francisco Examiner reports the city is “re-evaluating” its relationship with Wells Fargo after the phony account scandal.
The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday that Prudential Financial Inc. will stop distributing insurance policies through Wells Fargo for the same reason.
Sending a Message to Trump
In addition to separating City of Seattle funds from Wells Fargo, the proposed legislation will send a message to the pipeline owners that they can’t simply wait for the incoming Trump administration to reverse the Army Corps of Engineers denial of easement made on December 4.
“By voting to introduce [the bill] today on the council calendar, the city council can send a clear warning signal to the Dakota Access Pipeline executives and the oil lobby and a message of solidarity to the courageous activists,” Council Member Sawant told the council. “The pipeline executives have arrogantly announced that they intend to wait until Trump comes to power with the hope that his new administration will reverse the Army Corps’ decision. By urgently taking steps to divest from Wells Fargo, starting today, our city will have taken an important step against Trump’s agenda.”
The legislation, co-authored by Seattle activist Matt Remle, himself a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, has been forwarded to the city’s Affordable Housing, Neighborhoods and Finance Committee. It is expected to pass unanimously when the council reconvenes in January.
Native money is as green as anyone else’s and for those upset about the violence at Standing Rock and about Donald Trump, many are suggesting the best medicine would be to follow Seattle’s lead. Pulling your money out of a bank shown to be racist and dishonest, they say, might be just the ticket to pierce that pesky cloud of gloom surrounding the 500-year-old oppression of Native rights.