Dutch banking giant ING under fire for palm oil financing

AMSTERDAM: The Dutch unit of the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development will consider a complaint from three NGOs against banking giant ING Groep NV’s involvement in the palm oil industry.

Dutch Milieudefensie, Liberian SDI and Indonesian WALHI claimed in July that the Dutch lender continued to finance firms in the industry, even after they had alerted ING about human rights abuses and the environmental impact of the industry.

Over the past two years, palm oil has emerged as a flashpoint in a potential trade conflict between the European Union and producers from Indonesia to Malaysia.

The 28-member group is concerned about the industry’s sustainability levels and has restricted the types of biofuels derived from the oil that can contribute toward the bloc’s renewable energy goals.

ING has promised to engage but “we have never seen any difference on the ground,” Anne Wijers, a campaigner at Milieudefensie, said by phone.

ING has accepted the OECD’s offer to arrange talks with the groups, a spokesman for the bank said by email, adding that OECD hasn’t published a conclusion on the matter yet.

OECD guidelines are not legally binding on companies. The organisation handles complaints “usually through mediation or other conciliatory practices,” it says on its website.

The EU accounted for 12% of Malaysia’s palm oil exports in 2018, making it the biggest buyer after India, according to the Malaysian Palm Oil Board.

The Netherlands is the biggest EU importer of the commodity from Malaysia.