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August 31, 2012

In Search of Financial Goodness – The Rise of Ethical Banking

Many may consider the concept of “ethical banking” an oxymoron. Especially taking into account the banking crises that have been plaguing the world of late – the idea of using the words “ethics” and “bank” in the same sentence may be, at least to those wary of the financial industry, a contradiction in terms. However the call for institutions that are more concerned with their social and environmental impacts is on the rise.

As many are aware, there is a societal movement toward accountability and global impact. For example, the food industry has comprehensive codes and regulations for labels like “fair trade” and “organic” so consumers can be better informed about a company’s practices and products. Ethical banking is not yet so developed because “ethical” is a relatively subjective term. However, pressure is building for the financial sector to become more responsible.

Though there really is no set definition of an ethical bank, most that claim the label focus on transparency and more benevolent social and environmental aims of projects they finance. The movement appears to be especially potent in the United Kingdom . For example, The Cooperative is a UK-based bank that launched a comprehensive ethical policy 10 years ago detailing the companies it won’t invest or finance. They empower their customers, allowing them to “have your say on the issues that matter to you, such as human rights, animal welfare, fair trade and the environment.” And The Cooperative just tripled its presence by taking over of 632 Lloyds branches. This increase in ethical banking is underscored by the development of organizations dedicated to the cause – such as Move Your Money which encouraging individuals and businesses “to move their money to more ethical and socially responsible banks.”

Move Your Money – UK

This increasing focus on doing what is right and fair is heartening. Financial institutions have a great deal of power and they must be held accountable. Our global conscience is affecting change and the more consumers around the world stand for justice in banking – where lenders are more caring and compassionate – the more stable and prosperous we’ll all be.


August 26, 2012

Ai Weiwei – A Model of Hope

Ai WeiweiAi Weiwei, a Chinese modern artist and celebrated political activist, has been garnering a lot of attention lately. Long renowned for his provocative sculpture, photography and film projects, Ai is equally well-known for his open criticism of the Chinese government’s position on human rights and democracy. Both his art and his activism are documented in a new film titled Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry.

This provoking film is described as “the inside story of a dissident for the digital age who inspires global audiences and blurs the boundaries of art and politics.” The trailer provides a glimpse of this great man – his art, his passion, his enduring stand for freedom. Receiving countless film festival accolades and awards, this important film is providing audiences a view into Ai’s revolutionary fortitude.

This is a man who has faced down seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Chinese authorities have shut down his blog, beaten him, bulldozed his art studio and held him in secret detention. Despite these efforts to censor him, Ai continues to triumph. To the dismay of the Chinese government, last year he topped ArtReview’s list of the 100 most powerful names in art, applauded for his continued ability to remind “his colleagues and the world at large of the fact that freedom of expression is a basic right of any human being.”

Ai Weiwei: Life is Never Guaranteed to be Safe

Ai Weiwei’s impact on humanity is virtually impossible to estimate. But the recent bravery of his fellow Chinese citizens provides one distinct example of the fortitude he has inspired. Late last year the Chinese government declared that he owed $2.4 million dollars in unpaid taxes, and had two weeks to pay it back. Supporters immediately came to his aid, with an estimated 30,000 people donating money. Though donations raised didn’t come close to covering his bond and he continues to appeal his fine, the generosity demonstrated by the people of China is inspirational. Ai told the Christian Science Monitor:

“China is really hopeful. Lots of people have made their own decisions” about the justice of his treatment and “have their own moral judgment that is so strong and so generous.”

This is a compelling story of hope and a demonstration of the impact that peaceful efforts to fight injustice can have. We haven’t heard the last of Ai Weiwei. His influence will, no doubt, continue to be felt in China and throughout the world.

ai weiwei - backpack serpent art

Ai Weiwei’s “Snake Bag,” an imposing super-sized gallery-length python of a piece made from 380 children’s backpacks, a memorial to the thousands of children who died in the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan Province, China