WASHINGTON, DC — Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley today pressed the Chairmen and Board Members of Credit Suisse and Harris Associates amid reports that Credit Suisse has engaged in coordinated espionage against climate activists to retaliate for protests over the bank’s fossil fuel investments. The alleged incident is the third time within the last calendar year that Credit Suisse has been investigated for spying, following other instances of spying on their employees, board members, and competitors.
“If these reports are true this conduct was a grave breach of the public trust and likely criminal,” the senator wrote. “While all of these charges are despicable, I am particularly horrified by the report that Credit Suisse targeted activists combating our climate crisis and gained access to distribution lists of upcoming civic demonstrations. Credit Suisse then used the information obtained through this espionage to stifle speech.”
“Climate chaos is our largest existential threat and it is distressing that Credit Suisse seems determined to use its wealth and power to quiet those working to save us,” the senator continued. “There appears to be a pattern of troubling behavior for Credit Suisse that shows a clear disregard for privacy ethics, a disregard for civic engagement, and a willingness to chase short term profit, even at the expense of the planet.”
This month, it was reported that Credit Suisse had gained access to emails of climate activists and found information regarding upcoming protests to urge the bank to divest from fossil fuels—information the bank used to place physical and logistical barriers in the protestors’ way.
This incident is just one of many instances of suspected espionage by Credit Suisse. The first report surfaced last fall, when prosecutors began looking into whether Credit Suisse hired private investigators to follow the bank’s former head of private banking to make sure the former employee, who was soon joining UBS, was not taking business leads from Credit Suisse or poaching Credit Suisse employees. The scandal resulted in the resignation of Credit Suisse’s chief operating officer, who took responsibility for starting the investigation.
In December of last year, the bank confirmed that it had hired detectives to follow its former head of human resources in February 2019.
In light of these troubling reports, the Senator’s letter requests answers to six specific questions, including what type of espionage was performed on Greenpeace, and which other groups or organizations have been similarly targeted. Other questions included in the letter are as follows:
- The revelation of Credit Suisse’s espionage on activist comes as corporations are working with the Trump administration to remake corporate governance and limit shareholder involvement into firm investment decisions. Has Credit Suisse advocated with the Trump administration to diminish shareholder rights in corporate governance?
- Does Credit Suisse believe that activists have a fundamental right of free speech and civic activism?
- Does Credit Suisse recognize that this espionage was unacceptable? If so, what kind of safeguards will be put in place to ensure that this espionage does not happen again?
- Does Credit Suisse pledge to not infiltrate or infringe on any other civic organization focusing on addressing large public policy issues, including climate change and Indigenous rights?
Merkley has been a key leader in the fight to tackle the climate crisis in the Senate, where he helped lead the introduction of the Green New Deal and authored a landmark bill to ensure that new jobs in the renewable energy economy are reliable, living-wage jobs.