By Willy Staley  Updated on Wed Jul 16, 2014

Can Banks Be Compelled to Do Good?

Can Banks Be Compelled to Do Good?

Leandro Ciuffo/flickr source

That banks wield a tremendous amount of political power is troublesome to many, especially the two most active political movements in the United States: Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party. Banks are not only a critically important industry in any nation, but they are also able to donate more to political causes than many smaller industries. They can use this influence to further their own interests — and they certainly do — but their political power could also be used for good.

At least a petitioner on Change.org hopes so.

Collin Burton, an LGBT activist, recently launched a petition on the website calling for Citibank and Barclays to publicly condemn the “Kill the Gays” bill, which has just been reintroduced to Uganda’s parliament. The bill, which was shelved last year, would outlaw homosexuality in the African nation, and make it punishable by either life imprisonment or death — the latter in the instance of “aggravated homosexuality”.

The author of the bill, David Bahati, has said on record that he wants Uganda to “kill every last gay person.” Even U.S. politicians with anti-gay beliefs have come out against the bill, its hideousness beyond the pale of our current, heated debate over the state’s right to discriminate based on sexuality (though, some have found connections between the Christian right and Africa’s anti-homesexual legislation trend).

From the petition:

Citibank and Barclays — two of the largest banks in the world — have major operations in Uganda. Citibank has nearly $300 million in assets invested in Uganda, and is a major leader in a U.S. Chamber of Commerce based in Kampala, Uganda’s capital.

Barclays is Uganda’s third largest bank, with more than 1,000 employees in the country and 51 branches throughout the nation…With the “Kill the Gays” bill looming in Uganda’s parliament, Citibank and Barclays have unique and necessary voices that could help stop this bill in its tracks. Their presence in Uganda is significant, and their voices in opposition to the Anti-Homosexuality Bill could have a profound impact in keeping LGBT people safe in Uganda.

The petition, addressed to Ana Duarte McCarthy, Citi’s Chief Diversity Officer, in addition to nine others at Citibank and Barclays, currently has 176,660 signatures, about 24,000 short of their goal: 200,000.

Change.org has enabled significant consumer victories in the past, even in the banking industry. Readers may recall Bank of America’s proposed $5 monthly debit card fee from last year. Molly Katchpole started anti-fee petition that, according to Change.org, fueled the media exposure eventually leading to the fee’s cancellation.

Whether Burton’s petition can convince two large multinational financial corporations to get involved in politics it not immediately clear. The banks might not have to speak up, because even if the bill passes, Ugandan President Yoweri Moseveni would likely be forced to veto it, unless he’d like to forego foreign aid from the West, so argues a 2011 Bloomberg editorial.

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