Climate change activists disrupted Barclays’ annual general meeting for shareholders in Manchester today – with personal alarms set off in the audience and one protester gluing herself to a seat. According to reports the bank’s chairman was forced to halt the meeting as security was called in.
The Barclays PLC 2022 AGM was held at 11am at Manchester Central convention complex in the city centre. Environmental activist group Extinction Rebellion said later its members, and those of its sister movement Money Rebellion, were behind the disruption, which it added was launched to demand banks ‘stop financing fossil fuels’.
Similar disruptions were also held at Standard Chartered PLC’s AGM held in London on Wednesday morning, reported the group. Reports said banking giant Barclays’ AGM in Manchester got off to a chaotic start after a series of disruptions from people watching on in the audience.
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Video footage revealed shows shouting and heckling, with security officers called to attend and requests for people to be taken from the building.
Chairman Nigel Higgins was forced to pause the meeting while security removed the protesters as he was repeatedly interrupted, with the activists dominating the first 45 minutes and setting off personal alarms as he spoke. One woman protester glued herself to her seat in the audience to avoid being removed, according to reports.
Protesters criticized the group over its investment strategy, claiming the bank is continuing to invest heavily in fossil fuels and accused it of ‘greenwashing’. One activist said the bank was ‘morally bankrupt’. He said: “Barclays has ploughed 160 billion US dollars (£128 billion) into fossil fuel extraction.”
Another called on the firm to ‘change your policy’. He said: “You did say you were going to do it last year and you failed. Please, I’m begging you, after this meeting, change your policy.”
Mr Higgins – appearing flustered amid the disruption – had asked protesters to wait until the question and answer session at the end of the meeting, but was forced to ask security to step in.
In a statement posted on its website, Extinction Rebellion said: “A total of around 60 people interrupted speeches at both meetings, with some wearing masks of Standard Chartered’s Chairman, José Viñals, and the bank’s CEO, Bill Winters, while at the Barclays AGM protestors set off personal alarms.
“The action comes following a stark warning from the UN Secretary General earlier this month that investment in new fossil fuels is ‘moral and economic madness’.”
The environmental campaigners claim Barclays is the UK’s largest investor in fossil fuels having put 19.6 billion US dollars (£15.7 billion) into the industry in 2021, while the activists say Standard Chartered put in 6 billion dollars (£4.8 billion). A total of around 60 people interrupted speeches at both meetings, they said.
Aidan Knox, 22, a student and member of Money Rebellion who took part in the action at the Standard Chartered AGM, said: “We are disrupting the AGMs because we are in a climate crisis, but Barclays and Standard Chartered are more interested in their profits than a habitable planet.”
He pointed to warnings from UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres of a ‘code red for humanity’ and the International Energy Agency’s calls for no more investments in fossil fuel expansion if the world is to meet global targets to curb dangerous temperature rises.
He warned both banks put billions into companies expanding oil and gas in 2021, and said: “We are scared for the future and we have no other option but to pressure these UK banks to change.”
In response to a barrage of climate change questions from shareholders at the event, Mr Higgins said Barclays will not pledge to immediately stop investing in oil and gas firms, but insisted net-zero aims are a priority for the group.
Barclays has tabled a new advisory resolution on climate for shareholders to vote on at the event, after a proposal for the bank to reduce fossil fuel finance was rejected last year despite heavy campaigning from activists and investors.
Mr Higgins told investors at Wednesday’s AGM: “We get the point. We share the ambition and are aligning the IEA scenarios with the targets that we are setting, but there’s a hell of a lot else that needs to be done to make that scenario come to fruition.”
The protests today follow disruption in central London at HSBC’s AGM in central London last month, in which Extinction Rebellion and Money Rebellion said its members carried out a flash mob as the bank’s chairman, Mark Tucker, gave a speech, singing the Abba hit ‘Money , Money, Money’. the Manchester Evening News has contacted Barclays for comment on the disruption in Manchester.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.