PETA finds friend in British bank

While banks in the United States are standing in line for a handout just to stay in business and lending institutions around the world are wringing their hands, one British bank is thriving. Co-operative Bank is enjoying a 40 percent jump in retail deposits and a 65 percent increase in customer accounts, allowing it to offer 15 percent more in loans. How has Co-op done so well in this difficult time? The answer comes down to this: ethics.

Co-op has just announced that it will no longer lend to any company that conducts experiments on great apes. This announcement follows an earlier policy not to lend to companies that test cosmetics and consumer products on our closest relatives. The bank also turns down companies that cause environmental damage or that sell arms to oppressive governments. Indeed, saying ‘No’ is a 17-year tradition for Co-op, which just last year turned down 1 billion pounds in loan requests.

Turning away business, it turns out, can be an excellent fiscal policy-if that’s what your customers want. Co-op regularly communicates with the people whose cash fills its coffers, and more than 80,000 of them responded to its most recent survey. These people made it clear that they don’t want their money used to harm great apes in laboratories. Co-op listened. Pharmaceutical and biomedical research companies that imprison, poison, sicken and kill chimpanzees will not get a loan from one of Britain’s healthiest lending institutions.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals hopes that Co-op’s excellent example will do two things. First, we think it’s time for all banks to pay attention. Co-op says that at least one-third of its customers chose the bank for its ethical policies. Doing the right thing can pay as Co-op’s 14 percent annual growth rate shows. My own bank, which was one of the casualties of the mortgage industry fiasco and was recently taken over by another institution that appears now to be on shaky ground, has never bothered to ask me or, to my knowledge, any other customer what we think about its investments. Some of us would have plenty to say about where our money should go, and we’d also be loyal to a company that strives to reflect our ethical values.

Second, we urge lenders to take a look at what their (our) money supports. Pharmaceutical companies use and kill millions of animals every year, even though animals have proven to be poor models for humans. An incredible nine out of 10 drug formulations that test safe and effective in animals fail in human clinical trials. Is a 90 percent failure rate a good investment? And think of the misery that accompanies this appalling record.

Lenders should invest in the companies that are developing a host of more effective non-animal tests. These companies represent admirable ethics and good business sense. Even in these worrisome times, we can embrace both.