Commerzbank AGM: Our speech on mining and plastics

On 31 May, Commerzbank held its annual general meeting. Given the bank’s policy of not commenting on its clients and its decision last year not to engage with representatives of Latin American communities affected by mining, we took the opportunity to read a letter from the ecumenical mining network Iglesias y Minería (Churches and Mining) at the AGM. The Latin American network is a source of accompaniment and support for communities suffering the effects of mining activities. The subject of the letter: Commerzbank’s financial relationship with the British mining company Anglo American, whose exploitative business practices are causing water shortages in Chile and Brazil, the demand to end the business relationship and the renewed invitation to dialogue.

The speech including the letter, which we were allowed to give at the AGM thanks to the Association of Ethical Shareholders Germany, can be read in full below. Our countermotion, which we submitted together with the ethical shareholders and urgewald, can be found here.


The occupation of an Anglo American industrial basin by residents of the community of El Melón. © Javier Aroyo Olea.


Dear Shareholders,
Dear Board of Managing Directors and Supervisory Board,

My name is Vanessa Müller. I am a deputy board member of Facing Finance.

And it is thanks to the Association of Ethical Shareholders that I have been allowed to speak here today. Thank you.

I would like to take this opportunity to address two sets of issues and questions. In the first part, I will read out a letter from the South American church network “Iglesias y Minería” on the subject of Commerzbank’s financial relationship with the mining company Anglo American. Next I will pose some questions and make some additional comments.

The second part will be on a different subject, namely single-use plastics. As you may be know, the second round of negotiations for an international plastics treaty is currently taking place in Paris. And this raises the question of whether Commerzbank is a) prepared for this and b) what the bank’s role is in financing plastics companies – after all, it is for them that we need such an agreement in the first place.

Having said that, I would now like to read the letter to you. Please listen closely:


Dear Shareholders,
Dear Board of Managing Directors and Supervisory Board,

We are member organisations of Iglesias y Minería, a network of church and civil society organisations that accompany communities in nine Latin American countries whose human and environmental rights are violated by mining. Communities affected by mining, especially in the Global South, suffer daily from the pain and disregard of their social, economic and cultural rights. We are writing this letter to you in the awareness that the financial sector has a responsibility to “say no to an economy of exclusion and inequality”, to say no to an economy that kills, as Pope Francis has described it.

The mining industry is far from fulfilling its social responsibility with regard to environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria Today we are denouncing what we have seen, heard and suffered in Minas Gerais in Brazil and in the village of El Melón in Chile. Both places are suffering as a result of the presence of the mining company Anglo American and its denial of their most basic rights, such as the universal human right to water. Commerzbank is directly linked to the company, having financed it to the tune of several hundred million euros in recent years, as we pointed out, among other things, in last year’s Dirty Profits Report together with Facing Finance. Through its financial support for mining activities, Commerzbank shares responsibility for what happens in the communities where the mining company commits rights violations. The financing of Anglo American’s activities and the mining company’s dividends legitimise behaviour that violates international human rights and environmental agreements.

For example, Anglo American’s Minas-Rio iron ore mine affects three towns in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais. Road signs warning of the risk of a dam bursting are ubiquitous in the region, reminding people that the mining company’s presence endangers their lives. Rural communities near Anglo American’s Minas Rio mine would be directly affected by a dam burst, as happened in Mariana and Brumadinho, where Vale’s dam burst killed a total of 291 people in 2015 and 2019 (19 in Mariana and 272 in Brumadinho). Community leaders in the town of Conceição do Mato Dentro, where Anglo American’s Minas Rio mine operates, denounce a lack of participation and of failing to listen to community demands, such as in cases of community relocations. Anglo American denies that the communities are affected. Yet they are without water and live with toxic dust caused by the company’s explosions. Leaders who oppose the mining activity are threatened and persecuted, even having to enter protection programs for human rights.

History is repeating itself in many areas colonised by the mining industry. In the community of El Melón in Chile, where Anglo American operates the El Soldado copper mine, mining has left a dry and dirty trail of destruction. The daily life of a community that has always been based on agriculture and livestock has been brutally disrupted by Anglo American’s activities. The drought caused by the mining company’s high water consumption has put the community’s social, economic and political dynamics in an undignified situation. Anglo American consumes 109 litres of water per second, whereas the community receives only 13.5 litres per second. Gilberto Castillo, a community leader, explains that the people do not have water to wash their hands, drink or wash their grandparents; that they have to buy purified water to avoid diseases; that the inhabitants of El Melón suffer from contamination and pollution of the ground and surface water, as confirmed by studies, because they do not have sufficient, equitable and permanent access to the vital resource of water.

As church and civil society organisations, we call on Commerzbank to cease its financial relations with Anglo American and to choose to respect human rights and international treaties. The above examples show how Anglo American systematically violates the rights of communities in El Melón and Minas-Rio. We call on Commerzbank to adopt a new approach to mining companies and invite you to engage in dialogue with those affected. We remain at your disposal.

Thank you.


In connection with the letter from Iglesias y Minería, I would like to ask a few questions on behalf of Facing Finance:

As noted above, Commerzbank has provided Anglo American with substantial amounts of financing in the past. As an NGO, we have repeatedly pointed out to you, for example in the context of the Fair Finance Guide, the inadequacy of human rights financing and investment guidelines, in particular the lack of necessary consultation of financed companies with, for example, communities affected by mining. In the case of Anglo American, where many people are now literally “left high and dry,” it becomes evident why this is so necessary.

With this in mind, are there plans to strengthen the Bank’s human rights policies and if so, will the internationally recognised FPIC principle – the principle of free, prior and informed consent from affected communities – be enshrined?

We also noted that in September last year Commerzbank was involved in the issuance of a “sustainability-linked bond” by Anglo American, one of the aims of which is to reduce fresh water consumption. However, Anglo American’s water saving plans in Chile and other countries have repeatedly been criticised by communities as insufficient, even as a means of paralysing protests or maintaining business continuity – in other words, to continue consuming water in the future.

So how does Commerzbank ensure, or has it ensured, that the sustainability-linked actually adds value for local people and their access to water? Are the affected communities being heard in these processes, or has Commerzbank once again provided financial support to Anglo American without paying sufficient attention to the interests of the affected communities? And at the same time, is Commerzbank asking Anglo American to provide remedy to the affected local people for the water crises already caused by the company?

There is another issue that I would like to address: single-use plastics. I will begin with our questions. If time allows, I will also add some brief comments, but you can also find background information in our joint countermotion with the Association of Ethical Shareholders Germany.

The main things we would like to know from you are the following:

  • Has Commerzbank started to develop a financing and investment guideline on the issue of single-use plastics? If so, when will it be published? And will it take full account of the entire life cycle of plastics, i.e. in particular including raw material extraction, raw material processing, product manufacture and distribution?
  • If not, why is the issue of single-use plastics not a priority for Commerzbank, despite the associated climatic, environmental and social impacts on the one hand, and the growing risk of stranded assets on the other?

Let me say that plastic is already under increasing regulation not only in the EU but in many countries around the world. As we speak, 175 countries sit around a table in Paris negotiating the details of a legally binding plastics treaty. The question of a cap on plastic production is also on the agenda.

Plastic has a bad reputation, politicians are in the process of curbing the flood of plastic, demand will fall – money that Commerzbank, for example, is now investing in new plastic production facilities is badly invested. In the long run, these investments risk becoming worthless.

That is why I am appealing to you: Have the courage, not least in the interests of your shareholders, to make it clear to plastics-intensive and plastics-dependent companies that things cannot go on like this. Invest in the future, in real solutions and in reusable systems.

Thank you.